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Online security a concern as screen addiction surges during COVID-19 lockdown

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is seeing more Kiwis become addicted to their screens, new research has revealed.

NortonLifeLock released a new global study examining consumers at-home online behaviours. The new findings from the New Zealand research show that more than one in three New Zealanders (36%) say they are addicted to screens.

Despite many understanding the security risks involved, more than one in five connected device owners (22%) are not taking the proper actions to secure their devices, putting themselves and their families at risk of losing personal information.

In the study, conducted online by The Harris Poll among more than 1,000 New Zealand adults, 48% of Kiwis surveyed say the amount of time they spend in front of a screen outside of education and work purposes has increased significantly during the pandemic.

Consumers reported spending an average of 5.1 hours a day in front of screens outside of work or education, and for many, it is too much. More than 3 out of 5 New Zealanders (62%) admit that they spend way too much time looking at screens, and close to half (49%) say smartphones are the gadget that they are spending too much time on.

About half of New Zealanders (52%) agree that the amount of time they spend in front of a screen negatively impacts their physical health and more than one-third (37%) say it negatively impacts their mental health. Close to one in four (22%) say that increased screen time during the pandemic has made them feel bad about their body or hurt their self-esteem, and more than two in five New Zealanders (42%) say it has made them less physically active.

Respondents also noted that increased screen time during the pandemic has led them to experience increased anxiety or depression (16%), or has made them feel lonelier than ever before (14%).

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, says, "Research has shown that the impact of COVID-19 has negatively affected levels of mental and emotional wellbeing among New Zealanders.

"Wer ae also seeing heightened awareness of the value of focusing on mental health and people becoming more conscious of the behaviours and actions they can take to uplift our wellbeing."

Kevin Roundy, technical director and stalkerware specialist with Norton Labs, NortonLifeLocks research division, says, "Kiwis addiction to their devices has taken a toll on their physical and mental health during the pandemic, making people feel burnt out and unsure how to keep themselves safe from losing personal information.

"As we transition into a new normal and people travel outside the comfort of their homes, consumers will be facing more cyber safety risks with public WiFi access, outdated public computers, and potential identity theft," he says.

New Zealanders understand there are security risks that come from connected devices, with many believing it is very or extremely likely that a computer (57%) or smartphone (39%) will be hacked.

Yet, when it comes to securing their devices, only around one in three device owners surveyed have denied permissions to apps on devices (38%), changed the default passwords on devices (37%),  or installed cybersecurity software to their devices (34%). Even fewer (21%) say they regularly update the device passwords as a way to secure their device(s).

"New Zealand's cyber security landscape is rapidly changing, and recent attacks on businesses and institutions have made Kiwis realise that their online lives need protecting," says Mark Gorrie, senior director - APJ, NortonLifeLock.

"Our data also show that New Zealand adults own 5.6 connected devices on average, that tells us that Kiwis need to think deeply about how they are protecting themselves from cyber criminals," he says.

"Keeping your devices and software updated, using multifactor identification or encrypting your files, and using technologies that provide set and forget device security are easy first steps to taking control of the security of your own data," Gorrie adds.

"It puts people on a path to living their digital lives safely and keeping their devices and data secured."

Additional findings from the 2021 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report: Special Release Home - Family include:

  • Millennial and Gen Z kiwis are more likely than their older counterparts to admit they overindulge on screen use, but they also recognise that it negatively impacts their physical and mental health. Younger adults surveyed (age 18-39) are more likely to admit they spend way too much time looking at screens (72% vs. 55% of those aged 40 and older), but they also are more likely to recognise that the amount of time they spend in front of screens negatively impacts their physical health (63% vs. 44%). Younger adults are also more likely to say the amount of time they spend in front of screens negatively affects their mental health (54% vs 25%).
  • New Zealand consumers surveyed tend to be reactive when it comes to dealing with protecting their connected devices. An overwhelming 90% of device owners say they would take action if one of their connected devices were hacked, most commonly changing the security settings or passwords (60%). One-third or more say they would reset the device (i.e., remove all personal data/reset to default) (37%) or install security software or increase pre-existing security software (33%). Slightly less say they would search online for help (30%) or ask their family member(s) or friend(s) for help (27%).   
  • New Zealanders feel conversations about online safety should start young. Around nine in 10 (89%) believe it's absolutely essential or very important for parents to teach their children about cyber safety, and nearly all New Zealand adults (97%) agree these conversations are more important now than ever before. Still, whether these conversations happen or not, more than three-quarters (79%) concede it is difficult for parents to keep children safe when they are online.  
  • Screen time wasn't all bad. For some New Zealanders, increased screen time during the pandemic has helped them feel connected (48%) and has been their way to unwind (45%). 
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