Wales

Over 90% of Commonwealth citizens are unaware email passwords are a top target for criminals

March 10th 2022

  • Get Safe Online research reveals high level of global anxiety around cybercrime
  • Survey of over 5,000 people finds that the public are split on WhatsApp’s safety
  • Only 3% of respondents said they never thought about online scams and cybercrime

More than nine in ten adults (93%) across 22 Commonwealth nations are unaware that email passwords and access to personal and business email accounts are the top target for criminals and other malicious actors, according to new research from Get Safe Online. Instead, bank accounts were classed as the most important log-in details for professional hackers, despite the breadth of personal information our email accounts provide.

The organisation surveyed more than 5,200 adults online in February ahead of its Global24 event, which goes live today in cooperation with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).  Top tips and case studies about how to stay safe online from across the globe will be shared throughout the 24 hour period on the organisation’s social media channels.

The pinnacle of this year’s Global24 will be a strategic conference with participation from cybersecurity experts and local governmental stakeholders from the 24 countries that Get Safe Online operates within. Senior representatives from the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific will gather to discuss key findings from the research and share knowledge and practice on how best to prevent online crime amongst their citizens. The conference will be opened by His Excellency, Omar Daair, British High Commissioner to Rwanda.

The findings and results of this Commonwealth led conference will be collaborated into a Get Safe Online Global24 White Paper which will be launched later this month.

The timing of the Global24 event and research is particularly significant due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the work and learn-from-home restrictions many nations have faced or are now facing for the first time, as we are witnessing in the Pacific region. With COVID-19 accelerating digital transformation, many more people around the world have now started using PCs, laptops and other internet-enabled devices for everyday tasks.

Online platforms and services use email as a way of providing security and access to private documents, credentials, and other important information, from bank account details to memberships. This is often supplemented by Two Factor Authentication, where a user is asked to confirm access to a platform or portal through their email account.

email accounts therefore sit at the intersection between many people’s real and digital lives. This also means that they are a desirable target for cybercriminals and other malicious actors, who try and hack, phish or scam their way into people’s lives and bank accounts via their email.

But despite email passwords acting as a gateway to a vast amount of personal information, only 7% of respondents thought them to be a top target. Instead, more than three quarters of respondents (78%) said bank accounts were the main priority for hackers and 5% considered social media accounts to be a key target. The following case study provides an insight into the far-reaching damage fraudulent email access can cause.

Although many respondents failed to identify the key access point for cyber criminals, most are aware of the threat.  When asked if they worried about cybercrime and scams, the vast majority of respondents (88%) said they were concerned, with one in five (21%) admitting they think about the issue all the time and more than two-thirds (67%) revealing that they think about it some of the time. Just 3.5% of people said they did not think about the issue.

Beyond emails, cybercriminals have used increasingly sophisticated techniques during the pandemic to prey on the public, including posing as delivery companies or government organisations through text or messaging apps.

With WhatsApp being used more and more for scamming the public, Get Safe Online asked respondents whether they thought the platform was safe. The public were divided on the issue. While more than 28% said they believed the Meta-owned platform was safe, a further 27% said it was not. And over four out of ten (43%) of those surveyed admitted they did not know.

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: “Our emails are at the heart of our digital lives. With the mass adoption of digital technology during the pandemic across the globe, it now means email is at the centre of our lives more than ever.

“Unfortunately, cybercriminals take advantage of the vulnerable and those who may be new to digital technology, in order to gain access to their email accounts so they can steal private information, access other important platforms like an online banking account or cause general harm.

“We are hugely grateful for the support of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and our country partners across the globe in helping us to exchange ideas, advice and best practice as to how to keep our communities safe and also effectively communicate good advice.

“The scams and tricks cybercriminals use have become increasingly sophisticated, particularly during the pandemic and it is crucial that we are aware of the risks and protect ourselves from the ever-present threat.”

Will Middleton, Cyber Director for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, said: “As the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated digital transformation across the Commonwealth, it’s more important than ever that the international community works together to ensure that people all over the world can use the internet safely, securely and with confidence. We’ve made great progress so far, but Get Safe Online’s survey reveals there is much more to be done.

“That’s why the FCDO is delighted to be partnering with Get Safe Online and supporting its Global24 event – the world’s longest non-stop cyber safety awareness campaign. With top cyber security tips shared across the 24-hour period and 24 Commonwealth countries brought together to share best practice, Global24 is a collective effort to make the online world a safer place for all.”

Written by

Get Safe Online

In partnership with