More than one-in-four Internet users have given a fake name while online, and more than 20 percent have done something they regret while surfing the Web, according to a groundbreaking study released Wednesday by Internet security firm Symantec.
The study, entitled “Norton Cybercrime Report: The Human Impact”, reveals the widespread problem of global cybercrime, including identity theft, viruses, hacking, online harassment, cyberscams, phishing and sexual predation.
It also highlights some of the conflicting beliefs about our own unethical or illegal behavior, said Symantec.
Some 7,000 adults in 14 countries participated in the study, nearly two-thirds of which said they had been a victim of cybercrime.
The most victimized are in China (83%), followed by Brazil and India (tied at 76%) and the United States (73%), Symantec said.
The report also includes data about online activities that may seem questionable, such as lying, spying on others, and the illegal downloading of music and videos.
For instance, seventeen percent of the survey’s respondents said they had lied about their age or where they live while they were online. Nine percent reported lying about their financial or relationship status, and seven percent reported having lied about their appearance.
Although the psychological effects of cybercrime on its victims can vary, the study found that 58 percent of respondents reported feeling angry, 29 experienced fear, 26 percent felt helpless and 78 percent reported feeling guilty.
Psychology professor Joseph LaBrie of Loyola Marymount University said cybercrime victims often experience “learned helplessness”.
“It’s like getting ripped off at a garage ““ if you don’t know enough about cars, you don’t argue with the mechanic. People just accept a situation, even if it feels bad,” Symantec quoted him as saying.
The report reveals a disparity among countries in terms of the costs and complexity to victims in responding to cybercrime.
In Britain, for example, 59% of respondents said they had been a victim of cybercrime, requiring an average of 25 days and $153 to resolve the matter.
Cybercrime victims in Brazil and India reported significantly different results, with Brazilian victims requiring an average of 43 days and $1408 to resolve their problem, while victims in India required 44 days and just $114 to settle the matter.
Sweden had the shortest average resolution time, at just nine days, with an average cost of $178.
In addition to examining the effects of cybercrime, the report also analyzed our own online activities, finding they can sometimes cross into hypocritical or even unethical territory, Symantec said.
Roughly one in six respondents said it was “legal” to download music or videos without paying for the content, while 17 percent said they view plagiarism as an acceptable practice.
Nearly one-third had e-mailed or posted pictures of someone else without permission, while 25 percent said they had secretly snooped into another person’s browsing history.
Orla Cox, a security operations manager with Symantec, said she was not surprised about the study’s results with respect to the honesty of the respondents.
“A lot of people, while they want to get information about other people on the web, they themselves would like to remain somewhat anonymous, to hide some of their own information so as to be not too easily identifiable on the web,” she said during an interview with BBC News.
“I don’t think it’s always a bad thing but certainly people are trying to create a whole different identity for themselves for nefarious purposes.”
The full report, entitled “Norton Cybercrime Report: The Human Impact”, can be viewed at http://www.symantec.com/norton/theme.jsp?themeid=cybercrime_report