ProtonVPN’s new survey reveals US online data protection habits and the extent of how common data breaches are leading to the exposure of millions of user emails.
They have surveyed 1,000 Americans (randomly selected over the age of 16), asking the respondents questions about their online habits to reveal whether their emails have been exposed in an online breach, and what the average US citizen is doing to secure their online data.
The results show online data protection habits, how common data breaches are, which data people are most concerned about being exposed to, and the level of protection individuals use to keep their information safe.
One of the main findings from the survey is that over a quarter of the respondents in the survey had had their email addresses exposed in at least one company data breach. ProtonVPN asked the respondents to enter their main email address into a website called haveibeenpwnd.com. This website is free to use and checks whether an email address has been exposed in an online breach – the survey found that 25.8% of people have had their data exposed in a breach online at least once and over 10% hadn’t even realized this was the case before checking for the survey.
They found that the 3 kinds of data being exposed most commonly were:
- Email Addresses (57.19% respondents had their email addresses exposed)
- Passwords (38.36% respondents had their passwords exposed)
- Usernames (33.22% respondents had their usernames exposed)
The survey also asked respondents to specify the type of companies that had been breached. Social media was found to be the industry that had the highest percentages of people affected by a data breach. A larger breakdown can be seen below:
It is difficult to find solutions to every privacy issue as the world becomes ever more reliant on online companies day to day. Not everything can be protected by a VPN even, as Matt Fossen, US Communications Manager at ProtonVPN explains;
“Unfortunately, there isn’t much anyone can do when an external company suffers a data breach. People trust that a company or website has as much security in place as possible to keep their online data safe. This is not always the case, and even companies with high security levels have suffered large data breaches.
Most large social media platforms have suffered data breaches, including Facebook in 2019 and TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube, where the information of millions of users has been exposed. In this case, there is nothing more these individuals could have done to protect their data.
If people are worried about their information being exposed from websites such as social media, sharing as little personal data as possible on these accounts will reduce the amount of data at risk in any potential breach.”
The survey also asked respondents if they are concerned about having their personal data exposed in a breach – 82% of people said yes. However, despite this, shockingly less than 21% said they would change their online habits.
Less than 23% of people said they read privacy policies to ensure their data will not be sold to third parties and less than 20% of people said they have two-factor authentication (2FA) set up on all accounts – which keeps your accounts safe if your password is stolen or exposed.
Moreover, when asked after taking the survey whether the respondents planned to do anything further to keep themselves protected online, only 20.82% said they plan to do so.
Everyone should be taking precautions online where they can as data breaches are only becoming more common as even large companies struggle to keep up with hackers. We asked the experts at ProtonVPN for their tips on how people can make sure their data and online browsing is as private and secure as possible:
- Where possible, set up 2FA and extra steps to sign in to ensure your accounts are as safe as possible. With 2FA, even if someone obtains your login details, they will not be able to access your account without also having access to your second authentication pass.
- Don’t sign up for or share personal information with a website or service unless it is strictly necessary. We know that this is not easy with social media. However, we recommend sharing as little personal information as possible.
- When checking out, always untick any boxes that ask if they can keep your payment information for the next time you shop.
- Make sure all your passwords are different for each of your accounts, which is made easier by using a password manager. This means that if your data is obtained on one website’s data breach, hackers will not have access to your other accounts.
For the full findings from ProtonVPN’s US data protection: Online habits and data breaches survey, please see here: https://protonvpn.com/blog/us-data-protection-habits/