2019 saw the 30th birthday of the World Wide Web. It is still an incredibly new technology, and its full impact will not be clear for decades. In the 100 years after the invention of the printing press in 1450, there was massive social upheaval: we might expect the same now; we are still at the beginning of an equivalent era. The advent of election meddling, AI, large-scale cyber-attacks and mass surveillance has given us pause for thought. We’re at a pivotal moment where the line between offline and online is becoming blurred and we’re starting to question the vulnerabilities of a hyper-digital world.

Eight in ten Britons (80%) say cybersecurity is a high priority for them personally. This is good news for the UK Government, which faces the challenge of engaging the public ‘to help make the UK the safest place to live and work online’.103

When it comes to knowledge of how to be secure online, the picture is less positive. Just 15% of Britons say they know much about how to protect themselves from harmful activity online. Three in ten (30%) say they know not very much or nothing at all. But this isn’t necessarily their fault. There’s a lack of consensus across the tech industry on how to behave securely online, with different companies adopting different standards, language and advice. This is reflected in the survey findings with almost half of respondents (46%) agreeing that most information about how to be secure online is confusing.

There’s also a sense of inevitability when it comes to cybercrime, with seven in ten (70%) saying they will likely be a victim of at least one specific type of cybercrime over the next two years, and most feel it would have a big personal impact. When asked specifically about losing money or personal details over the internet, around four in ten (37%) agree that it’s unavoidable these days.

We know people see cybersecurity as a high priority and they’re concerned but they’re not that knowledgeable. So how well are people actually protecting themselves online and what can we learn from it? It’s worth noting here that being cyber-secure isn’t as simple as it sounds – it involves many different behaviours across different services, apps and devices. Our findings show the most prevalent behaviour is using a pin/passcode to unlock smartphones or tablets, with seven in ten Britons ‘always’ doing this (70%). This looks like a positive finding, but it’s not necessarily because we’re actively engaging with the behaviour. We know that in recent years automatic passcodes have increasingly become a default setting on our smartphones and tablets, and our findings highlight an important lesson for policymakers and technology companies.

When asked what interventions would be most likely to encourage cyber-secure behaviour, around nine in ten (86%) say IT providers and platforms building in automatic security measures would be best.

Tech overlords take note – we all want an easy life – and as our attention spans diminish and our screen time rockets, we want to be secure by default.