Report: Under-Resourced People Face Higher-Than-Average Cyber Risks

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The report outlines what it refers to as a new ‘digital divide.’

Mobile devices and the internet are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in American society, offering more connectivity than ever before.

But as those technologies grow more prevalent, researchers say a new divide is emerging between people who can identify and mitigate possible cybersecurity threats and those who cannot.

‘Underserved’ people—including foreign language speakers, senior citizens, and low-income residents—face “higher-than-average risks” of falling victim to cyber attacks compared to their better-served counterparts, according to a report released this week by the University of California, Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity.

“This cybersecurity gap is a new ‘digital divide’ that needs to be addressed—with urgency—by the public and private sectors alike,” wrote Ahmad Sultan, who led the study. “The report is intended to help city leaders understand how they could better understand this issue in their own cities, and how they might forge public-private partnerships to address cybersecurity concerns at the system level.”

Sultan surveyed more than 150 San Franciscans at diverse community-based organizations across the city and 142 people from a comparison group. The results of Sultan’s study indicate individuals in under-resourced communities are disproportionately vulnerable to cyber-crime.

The survey’s findings suggest that underserved residents frequently lack a complete understanding of the online security landscape, have low trust in companies that can help secure their data and are not confident in their own abilities to protect themselves online. A significant percentage of underserved residents have also likely already been victim to one or more cyber scams.

The report suggests nearly 26 percent of the underserved respondents reported that they had fallen victim to a cyber scam, compared to 15 percent of the comparison group. And of those scammed once, nearly a third were also scammed three times or more.

Forty percent of underserved respondents also reported that their computer or phones were infected by a virus at least once, and 44 percent said they believe they have provided personal information to complete strangers online, though they can’t remember exact details around doing so.

The paper encourages cities to study and allocate resources to their populations’ cybersecurity efforts, provide targeted trainings to tackle the issue, and partner with organizations in the private sector to improve the practices of underserved individuals.

“Cities have opportunities to work together to develop joint cybersecurity initiatives, including digital literacy trainings to improve cybersecurity outcomes, while also creating strong, sustainable, and actionable partnerships with private-technology firms to address system-level cybersecurity concerns,” the report said.