Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hong Kong people lack sense of security?

How do Hong Kong people view the issues of cyber and personal security? We can learn something from the recently released Unisys Security Index.

In August, Unisys interviewed 898 residents aged 18-64 on how they view security issues. Judging from the results, Hong Kong people in general feel less secure compared to two years ago. Especially when it comes to internet and national security, the respective drops are quite obvious.

According to this survey:

- 81% are ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned’ about unauthorised access to, or misuse of, personal information;
- 80% are ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned’ about other people obtaining/using their credit card details;
- 70% are ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned’ about Hong Kong experiencing another health epidemic.

In comparison, what are Hong Kong people relatively less concerned about? ‘Only’ 37% were concerned about Hong Kong’s national security in the context of war or terrorism. On the issue of computer and internet security, 39% showed concern over computer viruses and unsolicited emails. 46% were ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned about the security of shopping or banking online; 58% were concerned about their personal safety; and 59% were concerned about their ability to meet essential financial obligations.

Only concern but no action?

We can see that Hong Kong people are generally concerned about their privacy, however the same cannot be said about internet and computer security. Unisys also found that:

- Only 24% set or regularly change their passwords on their mobile devices; but 48% never do;
- Only 28% regularly change their online services passwords; 42% do not do so.
- Only 18% read the privacy policies of commercial organisations when acquiring their services; 42% never do;
- Only 34% update their computer’s security and anti-virus software; 38% say they never do that!

This simple survey shows that Hong Kong people are sensitive towards issues relating to privacy and stolen information, however they show less concern about computer and internet security. Even though people say that they care, the findings show they never act on their concerns! It is not as if the IT industry, government and the media haven’t talked about internet and computer-related security, And it is not like they haven’t called for increased awareness and education so that Hong Kong people pay attention to these issues. We have to ask: how can we make users, corporations and citizens understand that a safe environment starts from the participation and cooperation of everyone?

There has been a lot of coverage in the past about issues relating to personal data. Some Hong Kong people are very nervous about the use of their personal information. This survey also included views from respondents in Australia and New Zealand on the use of biometrics. The results show that Hong Kong people who use ‘e-channel’ to enter or leave Hong Kong, are more conservative in their views of the use of biometrics in other areas of life, compared to those in Australia and New Zealand. 65% of Australians accept the use of biometrics for filing tax returns, but in Hong Kong only 37% support this idea. Is it because Hong Kong people are overly concerned? Or do they think such services may not require for such high-level security measures? This issue requires further discussion. For example, since very few people file their tax returns online, we wonder where the problem lies. Is it because people are concerned about safety? Or is it because of some other reason?

Hong Kong people easily frightened?

The survey also shows that 73% of Hong Kong people said they would allow health or government related departments access their personal biometric information, including the Hospital Authority (HA) and the Department of Health. Significantly fewer people said that they are willing to give the same information to the Inland Revenue Department and to banks, with only 41% and 34% respectively willing to do so. Didn’t the HA ‘lose’ some patients’ information two years ago? I believe that the HA’s reform after the incident at least showed that the department was willing to face the problem, which sets a good example to other organisations. The HA is a public organisation and what they did would help win over people’s confidence in the organisation.

In general, Hong Kong people feel less secure when compared to people from other countries. Although Hong Kong people believe that the city is a relatively safe place, 58% of Hong Kong people still say that they are ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned’ about their personal security. Among the eleven countries that participated in the survey, Hong Kong ranked second behind Brazil, and Brazil is a country renowned for being unsafe! Do Hong Kong people not realise how lucky they are? Or are they over worrying?

A survey can inspire people to think. There is no “best of both worlds” scenario - you cannot enjoy privacy and security without giving up some convenience, so how do we balance these forces? It seems Hong Kong people do not do much to protect themselves against what they say they’re most concerned about. Apart from some technical issues like strengthening cyber security and increasing people’s confidence in using online platforms, the most important thing to ask ourselves is what should we do to make Hong Kong people become more confident so that they would be more willing to accept new ideas.

(This is a translation by Unisys Hong Kong for an article I wrote in Chinese for the Blog of Hong Kong Economic Journal.)


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