How Cyber-Safe Is Your City?

CYBERSPACE, 2010 (D.O.T.) - You probably won't be mugged in smaller cities like Portland, Ore., but you're more likely to have your cyber-wallet picked.

Cyber Security

Those same factors that are likely to boost a city's civic pride -- prevalence of Wi-Fi hot spots, a cyber-savvy populace and so on -- also make citizens more likely to be at risk for cybercrime, according to a recent study. The data comes from Symantec's Security Response group, which in conjunction with research firm Sperling's BestPlaces has issued a list of the 10 riskiest online cities. In the study, the company compared the number of cyberattacks against several potential risk factors, including the prevalence and speed of Internet access, usage, how much citizens spend on computer gear, and how likely they are to shop online. Regardless of the size of the city, score high on those marks and the crooks will find you. Seattle tops the list, a city with high marks in all four areas: Seattle had the second-highest scores for risky behavior and Wi-Fi hotspots, the third-highest scores for Internet access and consumer expenditures and the sixth-highest score for cybercrimes per capita. The top ten:

1. Seattle
2. Boston
3. Washington, D.C.
4. San Francisco
5. Raleigh, NC
6. Atlanta, GA
7. Minneapolis, MN
8. Denver, CO
9. Austin, TX
10. Porland, OR

"Interestingly, factors that might imbue a city with civic pride are also those most likely to make it a target for cyber criminals," noted Marian Merritt, Norton Internet Safety Advocate.

Boston was second on the list of most dangerous cities; Symantec notes that only Atlanta and Miami receive more spam. And Washington D.C. scored third, in part due to high Internet usage among citizens. 22 percent of D.C. residents use the Internet at least five times a day, 39.1 percent higher than the average.

"Everyone describes statistics by city, when it's muggings and murders," noted Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Why wouldn't we do the same for cybercrime? Of course, they're not really targeting cities, they're targeting people," he pointed out. Merritt disagrees, explaining that criminals are getting smarter, tailoring attacks not just for the Internet populace in general but for specific groups more likely to succumb to their assaults.

"We're talking about people who are going to look for the best targets," she said, noting that bank fishing attacks tend to hit areas with more retirees, who are more likely to fall for such scams.

Cybercrime isn't made up of anonymous, blanket attacks any more. "That's changed a lot in the past two years," says Merritt, pointing out the increase in "spear fishing," where criminals target the high-profile (and wealthier) executives at organizations.

"They're going after high net-worth individuals because the pay off is so much better."

Of the 50 U.S. cities examined, Detroit came in as the least risky online city. Motor City's residents were less likely to participate in risky online behavior compared to other cities in the study, and it also ranked low in cybercrime, access to Internet, expenditures on computer equipment, and wireless Internet access. El Paso, Texas and Memphis, Tenn. came in second and third, respectively, on the list of least risky online cities.


By comparing the number of cyberattacks, malware infections, spam zombies and so on with the prevalence of wireless hotspots, frequency of online purchases, number of broadband connections, and so on, Symantec ascertained the 50 riskiest online cities. These are the details:

1. Seattle, WA
Seattle finished in the top spot by a wide margin, as it was the only city with top 10 scores in each of the study's categories. Seattle had the second-highest scores for risky behavior and Wi-Fi hotspots, the third-highest scores for Internet access and consumer expenditures and the sixth-highest score for cybercrimes per capita.

2. Boston, MA
Boston finished in second place overall due largely to its high levels of cybercrimes (5th place), risky behavior (4th place) and Wi-Fi availability (8th place). It also ranked in the top 25 percent of all cities in Internet access and consumer expenditures.

3. Washington, DC
Our nation's capital is also a capital of cybercrime, as it ranked third overall due to high scores in all of the categories. It ranked fourth in cybercrimes, fifth in Wi-Fi hotspots, eighth in consumer expenditures and Internet access and eleventh in risky behavior, as defined by the amount and type of Internet usage.

4. San Francisco, CA
It may come as a surprise that this high-tech hub ranked fourth overall, but San Francisco received the highest marks among all cities for risky behavior and Wi-Fi hotspots and the second highest marks for Internet access and consumer expenditures. It was only a relatively low number of cybercrimes that prevented San Francisco from claiming the top spot overall.

5. Raleigh, NC
The home of tech-center Research Triangle Park fifth place finish is the result of high marks in Internet access (7th), consumer expenditures (7th) and risky behavior (6th). Lower scores in cybercrimes (11th) and Wi-Fi hotspots (22nd) prevented Raleigh from finishing any higher in the overall rankings.

6. Atlanta, GA
Atlanta's sixth place finish was largely the result of its having the highest number of cybercrimes per capita in the United States. Atlanta also scored highly in Wi-Fi hotspots (3rd place). Lower scores in the other three categories kept it from moving closer to the top of the overall rankings.

7. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis received fairly high marks across the board, finishing in the top ten in cybercrimes, risky behavior and Wi-Fi hotspots (9th place for each of these categories).

8. Denver, CO
Denver ranked eighth overall due largely to its high number of cybercrimes (7th). Denver ranks fifth in terms of spam zombies and bots per capita. Over 21 percent of its residents use the Internet at least five times per day, which is 28.7 percent above average, and 9.6 percent use the Internet away from home, which is 29.1 percent above average. Over 44 percent of Denver residents have broadband connections.

9. Austin, TX
Although Austin finished in the middle of the pack in terms of cybercrimes, its high scores in the other four categories resulted in a ninth place finish. Austin residents spend an annual average of $224.50 on hardware and $32.24 on software. Over 22 percent use the Internet at least five times per day, 36 percent above average. Nearly 9 percent use the Internet away from home, 37.1 percent above average, and 45.9 percent has broadband connections, 16.1 percent above average.

10. Portland, OR
Portland sneaks into the top 10 as a result of very high scores in risky behavior (5th) and Wi-Fi hotspots (4th). Portland has over 83 Wi-Fi hotspots per 100,000 residents, which is 266 percent greater than the average of the top 50 cities. Over 53 percent of Portland residents use e-mail, which is 20.1 percent above average. Online auctions are especially popular with Portlanders, as 8 percent of residents use them to buy things (20.7 percent above average).


11. Honolulu, HI
12. Charlotte, NC
13. Las Vegas, NV
14. San Diego, CA
15. Colorado Springs, CO
16. Sacramento, CA
17. Pittsburgh, PA
18. Oakland, CA
19. Nashville-Davidson, TN
20. San Jose, CA
21. Columbus, OH
22. Dallas, TX
23. Kansas City, MO
24. New York, NY
25. Indianapolis, IN
26. Albuquerque, NM
27. Miami, FL
28. Omaha, NE
29. Virginia Beach, VA
30. Los Angeles, CA
31. Cincinnati, OH
32. Houston, TX
33. St. Louis, MO
34. Phoenix, AZ
35. Chicago, IL
36. Baltimore, MD
37. Oklahoma City, OK
38. Philadelphia, PA
39. Jacksonville, FL
40. Tulsa, OK
41. San Antonio, TX
42. Milwaukee, WI
43. Cleveland, OH
44. Tucson, AZ
45. Long Beach, CA
46. Fort Worth, TX
47. Fresno, CA
48. Memphis, TN
49. El Paso, TX
50. Detroit, MI

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