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Nearly Two-Thirds of U.S. Adults with Social Media Accounts Say They Have Been Hacked

Nearly 9 in 10 also limit personal information shared on social media due to fear of being hacked, finds University of Phoenix Survey

PHOENIX, April 27, 2016 — Only 10 percent of internet-using adults in America used at least one social networking site in 20051. More than a decade later that number has grown exponentially, with 84 percent of U.S. adults claiming to have at least one social media account, according to a recent survey by University of Phoenix conducted online by Harris Poll in February 2016 among 2,088 US adults 18 years or older. As the prominence of social media has grown, so too has the number of criminals preying on those who use it.

Nearly two in three U.S. adults who have personal social media profiles say they are aware that their accounts have been hacked and 86 percent agree they limit the personal information they post due to the fear of it being accessed by hackers. Despite efforts to protect personal information, cybercriminals still often outwit the consumer. In fact, in 2014, 70 percent of social media scams were manually shared2, meaning people voluntarily and unwittingly shared posts that linked to malicious or affiliate sites, up from just two percent in 20133.

“Social media sites can lead users to believe their information and data are secure through a few self-selected security settings. But today’s cyber security criminals can often get around basic passwords and uncover personal information,” said Dan Konzen, college chair for the College of Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix, Phoenix Main Campus. “The best way to protect yourself is knowing what information is available online and how to reduce access.”

U.S. adults take steps to enhance online security

Despite the high number of threats to Americans’ online identities through their social media profiles, here’s some good news: more than half (58 percent) of U.S. adults believe their data on these platforms is somewhat or very secure. Nearly 9 in 10 (86 percent) say they check their security settings, with 58 percent checking them at least once a month.

Eighty-six percent of U.S. adults also took precautionary measures to make their accounts more secure once they were aware of being hacked. The majority of people changed their passwords (61 percent) followed by changing or updating their security settings (57 percent), removing personal information (33 percent) and deleting their account all together (11 percent).

“Cybercriminals are incredibly inventive in finding ways to obtain victims’ personal information, which makes it important to educate people on how to combat criminals,” said Dennis Bonilla, executive dean for the College of Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix. “With cybercriminal savvy on the rise, it’s important that University of Phoenix not only provides consumers with the know-how to safely and smartly use social media, but that we prepare, educate and train a future workforce to address these issues.”

University of Phoenix® College of Information Systems and Technology offers associates, bachelor and master’s degree, as well as certificates, in cybersecurity through the newly created Cybersecurity and Security Operations Institute. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cyber security jobs are expected to grow 37 percent between 2012 and 2022. University of Phoenix cyber security degree programs educate students in cryptography, enterprise security and systems audit, which enable students to pursue careers after graduation.

For more information about each of these programs, including on-time completion rates, the median debt incurred by students who completed the program and other important information, please visit: phoenix.edu/programs/gainful-employment.

Tips to avoid being hacked

To maximize the benefits of social media as a tool to connect with family and friends, news and entertainment, business and shopping and more, while ensuring the safety of personal information, Konzen offers the following tips to stay safe on social media:

  1. Remember that nothing you post online can be completely deleted. Just because you delete a photo or status doesn’t mean it still can’t be found. If it isn’t something you want public, don’t post it online.
  2. Protect your social media passwords. Hackers can easily access accounts with simple passwords, like pet names or birthdays. To protect passwords, use sites like www.agilebits.com/onepassword and make sure passwords utilize letters, numbers and characters.
  3. Use anonymity networks like Tor (The Onion Router) or virtual private network (VPN) on public Wi-Fi. Public hotspots often aren’t as secure as we believe. Social media sites don’t have secure logins, so passwords and info can be stolen. Only use secure networks or use Tor or VPN, which enhance online privacy and security, if you have to use public Wi-Fi.
  4. Limit the personal information you post on social media. Posting too much personal information can make you an easy target for hackers. Search for yourself online and see what information is available to everyone – you may be surprised.
  5. Only connect with people you know. Having hundreds of social media “friends” sounds great in practice, but you could be connecting with hackers who only want to steal your information. Only follow/friend or accept requests from people you know.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Apollo Education Group between February 5 and 9, 2016, among 2,088 US adults 18 years or older, 1,731 who report having at least one social media account. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jennifer Marshall at jennifer.marshall@apollo.edu.

About the College of Information Systems and Technology

University of Phoenix® College of Information Systems and Technology is a leader and advocate for the development and advancement of IT in global business operations. The College offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. Its Faculty Advisory Council, composed of experts and leaders in the field, ensures curriculum is on pace with national and international market demands.  Providing innovative digital learning tools developed to suit all learning styles, the College focuses on building technical knowledge and its successful application to real-world business environments. For more information, visit www.phoenix.edu/technology.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix is constantly innovating to help working adults move efficiently from education to careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant and engaging courses, and interactive learning can help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. As a subsidiary of Apollo Education Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: APOL), University of Phoenix serves a diverse student population, offering associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. For more information, visit www.phoenix.edu.

1 Pew Research Center: Social Media Usage: 2005-2015

2 Symantec: Internet Security Threat Report, April 2015, page 12

3 Symantec: Internet Security Threat Report, April 2015, page 12