Laptops hold more sensitive data, but are less protected than smartphones

AlertSec, a cloud-based encryption company, has announced results of a new cybersecurity survey revealing that laptops, though they usually contain more sensitive and personal data than smartphones, are less frequently encrypted than other mobile devices. 

AlertSec surveyed more than 800 U.S.-based consumers to learn about the current state of laptop versus smartphone and mobile device encryption, as well as to explore the various cybersecurity risks that users may be exposed to and how much they know about their own personal computer security preparedness.

Overall, the survey found that most people don’t have much knowledge about the security tools they are using and can’t even guarantee what sort of security software is installed on their own laptops. In fact, more people could guarantee the use of ad blockers and anti-virus protection software than could guarantee that encryption software designed to protect their sensitive, personal data was installed on their machines.

Overall, some 46% of people admit they have exposed themselves to cybersecurity threats while using a laptop. Among the top risks were:

  • Leaving the laptop unattended (13.2%);
  • Leaving the laptop in the car (13.1%);
  • Declining regular security updates (10.4%);
  • Attaching login information to the device (5.4%);
  • Flying with a laptop in checked luggage (4.3%)

 What’s more, Americans believe that encryption of smartphones and mobile devices is “sexier” than laptop encryption but acknowledge that their laptops have more sensitive information. Reasons that smartphone encryption was defined as sexier include:

  • More people having smartphones (19.5%);
  • Police access to smartphones for criminal cases or legal matters (7.5%).
  • Surprisingly, 14.3%  of respondents said that smartphone encryption is “sexier” due to the personal (and potentially racy) nature of photos stored on smartphones.

And while smartphone encryption gets all of the headlines, AlertSec’s survey data shows that laptops present an even more real security risk, because for most, laptops have more sensitive data than their phones. 

Among the potential security risks for laptops, some 14.2% of survey respondents said they have work files on their machines, as well as web browser histories (11.2%), credit card and payment data (10.1%), tax information (8.6%) and racy photos (2.5%). When it comes to risqué content, some 95% of men say they have racy photos on their laptops, while only 5 percent of women do.

“Whether the content on your laptop is G-rated or not, the need for protection is real,” says Ebba Blitz, CEO of AlertSec. “Our survey data shows that there are multiple points of exposure for laptop users, and the unfortunate reality is that that hackers and cybercriminals are just waiting to take advantage of the information that is freely available on unprotected laptops. That’s why we’re strong advocates for machine-level encryption.”