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Online safety begins with you and me: Convincing Internet users to protect themselves

This article delves into the persistent issue of individuals neglecting basic cybersecurity measures, despite the increasing reports of losses from security breaches. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the psychological factors that encourage users to adopt safer online practices. By employing the Protection Motivation Theory (PMT), a model from the Social Cognitive Theories (SCT), we devise and evaluate strategies to promote safer online behaviors. We also incorporate the notion of personal responsibility into the PMT framework to gain a deeper understanding of what drives secure online actions. The effectiveness of online safety interventions was assessed through a complex experimental design involving manipulation and measurement of various factors, with the intention of enhancing online safety behavior. Two intervention strategies were formulated based on SCT principles of behavior change: one providing a semantic explanation of behaviors, and another offering an enactive mastery exercise. The study sample was representative of Internet users and cross-sectional. The findings revealed a significant interaction effect among personal responsibility, intervention strategy, and prior knowledge. It appears that fostering a sense of personal responsibility is a crucial, but not necessarily sufficient, step towards effective online safety interventions. The intervention strategy should also align with the user’s knowledge level to boost online safety behaviors.

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