The Web can be a dangerous place for those who aren't careful. Cyber-criminals can steal identities and cash from the reckless, and users can embarrass themselves and harm their professional reputations if they post or lose track of questionable photos. Despite these risks, young adults seem content to conduct online activities without giving security much thought, according to recent research.

A recent poll of 1,000 18- to 24-year-olds found that at least half of their age group is willing to sacrifice security when it comes to file-sharing, social networking and online shopping.

"They have heard their entire lives to be careful online, and while most of them have had an incident, the damage of that incident hasn't been very lasting or permanent. So most of them are making a risk decision in their head, and then after that, they're not even revisiting that decision as time goes on," said Sam Curry, chief technology officer of marketing at RSA, the security division of EMC that commissioned TRU Research to research the behavior of young people online, polling from February 26 to March 8.

"They decide, 'Ah, I've heard about viruses, heard about hackers. It's old news.' Then the next time around, they're not even thinking about the risk equation anymore," Curry said.

The findings, disclosed in the "Generation Y Online Security Survey" were released on April 20. Data included the following:

  • 96 percent of young adults believe that most people their age aren't as careful online as they should be, if at all.
  • 76 percent say most people their age are willing to take chances with security in return for lower prices on things they want or need.
  • 64 percent are concerned about enabling hackers to access their hard drive or files, yet 46 percent admit to using a file-sharing app that allows others to access their computers and files, and 42 percent say they access private documents or files on public computers.
  • 56 percent are concerned about someone hacking into their e-mail or social network account, yet 28 percent never log out of e-mail and 25 percent never log out of social networking.
  • 91 percent of social networkers say they are social network friends with someone they don't know well, if at all; 65 percent say their contact information is viewable by friends only; and 18 percent say their contact info on their social network profile is viewable by people outside their "friends" list.

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Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.