Americans spend an average of 6-plus hours online per day. Yet merely 2% of adults can correctly answer 10 questions about digital knowledge, including cybersecurity and social media.
Americans and Digital Knowledge, a Pew Research Center survey, showed Americans know far too little about digital security and privacy. In fact, most of those who took the test failed.
This ever-widening digital divide is a huge problem for corporations that employ uninformed internet users who can invite hackers onto their networks with one click.
- A mere 24% of Americans know that private browsing, such as Chrome’s Incognito mode, hides browser history ONLY from users of that specific device. This means about 75% of Americans don’t understand they are not protected from hackers when they’re incognito.
- Nearly half (49%) don’t know what private browsing does.
- Only 29% of Americans know Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram.
- Only 3 in 10 adults (30%) know “https://” in a URL means information entered on that site is encrypted.
The survey showed technical understanding varies widely depending on topic, age, and education. Adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree and those under the age of 50 scored highest.
Roughly 4 out of 10 (37%) with at least a bachelor’s degree correctly answered 7 questions or more, compared to 20% of those with some college and a mere 9% of those with a high school diploma or less. The median number of correct answers was 4.
One of the most alarming findings was that only about a quarter of American adults (28%) can identify an example of two-factor authentication when they see it. Of the 10 questions, this one received the highest number of inaccurate responses (55%), with 17% responding “not sure.”
Two-factor authentication, also known as 2FA, is a way for device users to prove their identity in two ways. The process involves using something they know (like a password) and something they have (like their phone or a security key).
Here’s how the question was written: “Some websites and online services use a security process known as two-step or two-factor authentication. Which of the following images is an example of two-factor authentication?”
Just in case you're not sure, here's the correct two-factor authentication image:
Here's an informative video from DUO Security (the company we use for 2FA) that explains the process:
About the survey
With 4,272 panelists, the survey is statistically significant and a representative example of American adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.
Pew Research Center conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research.
Pew explained: “It is important to note that while the share of adults who can correctly answer questions about these issues varies across topics, Americans are more likely to express uncertainty about the topic than give inaccurate answers in most cases. Indeed, the two-factor authentication question is the only question answered incorrectly by more than half of respondents.”