Survey: Users Believe Internet Is ?Safer?

What do the Italians and Germans know about the security of the Internet that the rest of the world doesn’t? According to a new survey of more than 1,000 Web users in 10 countries, only Italy and Germany say the Internet was less safe in 2007 than it was in 2006.

According to the annual survey commissioned by Cisco Systems, 56 percent of remote workers using enterprise PCs to access the Internet say their perception of Internet security increased in 2007. In 2006, 48 percent said they felt the Internet was safe. The most significant gains were in the United States (60 percent), China (64 percent) and Brazil (71 percent).

As users’ security perceptions toward the Internet are improving around the world, security experts say that the volume and severity of security threats is increasing. In the past year, several security observers and researchers have released reports that malware writers are using more sophisticated code that’s harder to detect and eradicate. The volume of detected malware across the Internet increased 253 percent in 2007, according to Cisco. Likewise, 2007 was the worst year for data breaches with more than 125 million personal financial records compromised.

The contradiction between perception and reality has security experts worried. The survey results are particularly troubling, since respondents universally agreed that enterprise security spending would slow this year.

The explanation for why remote users believe the Internet is safer is two-fold: Enterprises and the marketplace continue to shift more services and resources to the Internet, and a misplaced trust that work-issued machines are safer because someone else is caring for the security.

Consider this: Most of the survey’s respondents (51 percent) say their work computers are more secure than their personal PCs, and nearly half (45 percent) believe they are more vulnerable to malware and hacks when they’re working outside their corporate perimeter.

At the same time, enterprises are adopting services such as and NetSuite for business intelligence. And consumers are increasingly conditioned to conduct more of their personal business—banking, bill paying, commerce—via the Internet.

The number of remote workers using work PCs for personal e-commerce rose modestly to 43 percent—up 4 percent over 2006. Most say the need to use their work machines at work for personal use otherwise they’d never have time to get things done. One-third worldwide say their companies don’t mind their use of work machines for personal online activities, with the highest responses coming from the France (52 percent), the United Kingdom (43 percent), Australia (42 percent) and the United States (35 percent).

With the exception of two countries, remote workers’ perceptions of Internet security increased significantly last year over 2006. Seventeen percent fewer Italians (46 percent) said the Internet is getting safer for personal and business use, while 4 percent fewer Germans (43 percent) say the same.

Perceptions improved the most in Brazil (up 19 points to 71 percent), the United States (up 18 points to 60 percent) and China (up 17 points to 64 percent). The French (72 percent) have the highest perception that the Internet is safe, while Japan (42 percent) has the lowest.