A year of self-isolation made thoughts on online safety hard to avoid. The use of virtual private networks, VPNs, has skyrocketed, with many pointing to the pandemic as the critical catalyst, claims a recent report.
A whopping 69% of Americans are concerned about their data security while on public Wi-Fi, reveals a recent report from CouponFollow, an online couponing platform. 64% of the participants in the survey were also concerned about their privacy while using the internet at home.
A similar number, 65%, expressed concerns that their ISP might share or sell their medical or financial data. The results come after CouponFollow looked into what caused a spike in the interest in VPN services before and after the coronavirus pandemic hit the States.
"A majority of Americans are concerned about their data security while using the Internet at home, and 65% of Americans worry their ISP might be sharing or selling their medical or financial data. These types of data and privacy concerns led to more people looking to use a VPN at home for its perceived anonymous browsing capabilities," Marc Mezzacca, a researcher for the report and CouponFollow's founder told CyberNews.
Influence of 2020
According to the report, political turbulence and the global pandemic might have caused many Americans to consider using a VPN service. 11% of the survey respondents claim to have started using a VPN service during the pandemic, while 10% outright admitted they started using VPN because of the pandemic.
However, working from home tops the list of reasons to start using a VPN service for the survey respondents whose answers served as the basis for the report. 21% of the people claim that having to work from home during the pandemic was the key reason to start using a VPN.
16% claim to have started using VPN for a very similar reason – staying at home. Online protection that office work provided was mainly gone during the pandemic, meaning some individuals had to invest in their online safety individually.
Interestingly, a tenth of the survey respondents claim to have started using a VPN service because of the political events in the USA. Even though it wasn’t detailed what circumstances might have led to additional worries, the respondents claim that related events caused concerns over safety and privacy.
According to the report, the pandemic was a habit-forming experience. 46% of the survey respondents claim they intend to keep using VPN services even after the pandemic ends and the world returns to normality. The proportion of the respondents who claim they will continue to use VPNs was higher among Millennials, Gen Zs (aged 18-40), and Gen Xs (aged 41 to 55).
Although Americans have become more digitally literate and savvy to sketchy Internet tactics used by hackers, online fraud and hacking remain a considerable problem for many Americans,Marc Mezzacca.
Fears over privacy
Fears over online safety might be related to the fact that over a third of the respondents claim to have had or know someone who had suffered from attempts to hack their online accounts.
"Although Americans have become more digitally literate and savvy to sketchy Internet tactics used by hackers, online fraud and hacking remain a considerable problem for many Americans. According to survey respondents, more than one-third of Americans had, or know someone who had, their social media account hacked or hijacked," said Mezzacca.
According to the report, the younger generation of internet users saw attempts to compromise their accounts more frequently, with 48% claiming to have been hacked or knowing someone who has.
33% of the surveyed people have been exposed to attempts at password hacking. The number of millennials who have witnessed attempts to tamper with their passwords stands at 52%. 37% of Gen Xs and 12% of Baby Boomers (56 or older) admitted to encountering the same threats.
The report shows that 28% of Americans have been victims of identity theft or know someone who has, with another 17% falling for a phishing attack.
Interestingly, even though people tend to have privacy concerns while using the internet at home (62%) or in public spaces (69%), the report’s authors claim that only half as many (34%) admit to being concerned about using the internet at work.
The different nature of online presence at work is pointed out as a probable reason, explaining the difference by the authors of the report.
Use of VPN
Unsurprisingly, safety concerns translate into 35% of the people admitting using a VPN service at home or work. The report shows that men (47%) are more prone to using VPN than women (28%).
Differences between VPN use among different age groups are not as stark as intuition might lead to think. 43% of Millennials and Gen Zs use VPN service, with Gen Xs (41%) close behind. 23% of VPN service users are baby boomers. Half of the survey respondents claim to be using a VPN nearly non-stop.
“It could well be down to the fact that a lot more people found themselves working remotely in the last year, but with 45% of VPN users utilizing it for work, it was the second most common reason to use a VPN in 2020, just behind anonymous browsing (49%),” claims the report.
Anonymous browsing and privacy topped the list of reasons to use a VPN (49%) while streaming (22%), online shopping (21%), and gaming (20%) somewhat lagged in popularity compared to the top two reasons: anonymity and work.
14% of the respondents claim to use a VPN service to avoid government eavesdropping, while a similar number used VPNs to torrent and use other peer-to-peers services safely.
CouponFollow saw an influx of VPN discount-related searches in March 2020, with an overall increase in VPN services registering at 142%. The first survey was completed in November 2019 with 1,666 participants, while the second one ended in February 2021 with 1,834 total respondents.
If you want to take your online privacy and security seriously, you should consider using a trusted VPN service. You might want to try NordVPN or Surfshark. In case you are considering ‘vaccinating’ your computer, we have recommendations for the best antivirus protection as well.
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