How I learned to be secure: A census-representative survey of security advice sources and behavior

Few users have a single, authoritative, source from whom they can request digital-security advice. Rather, digital-security skills are often learned haphazardly, as users filter through an overwhelming quantity of security advice. By understanding the factors that contribute to users’ advice sources, beliefs, and security behaviors, we can help to pare down the quantity and improve the quality of advice provided to users, streamlining the process of learning key behaviors. This paper rigorously investigates how users’ security beliefs, knowledge, and demographics correlate with their sources of security advice, and how all these factors influence security behaviors. Using a carefully pre-tested, U.S.-census-representative survey of 526 users, we present an overview of the prevalence of respondents’ advice sources, reasons for accepting and rejecting advice from those sources, and the impact of these sources and demographic factors on security behavior. We find evidence of a “digital divide” in security: the advice sources of users with higher skill levels and socioeconomic status differ from those with fewer resources. This digital security divide may add to the vulnerability of already disadvantaged users. Additionally, we confirm and extend results from prior small-sample studies about why users accept certain digital-security advice (e.g., because they trust the source rather than the content) and reject other advice (e.g., because it is inconvenient and because it contains too much marketing material). We conclude with recommendations for combating the digital divide and improving the efficacy of digital-security advice.