Consumers in the United States join others in countries such as Singapore, Mexico, Spain and Japan when it comes to having the least-protected personal computers.
Finland ranked as the best of 24 countries monitored by McAfee, which scanned 28 million computers every month for the past year.
"The United States is the fifth least protected country, with 19.32 percent of Americans browsing the Internet without any protection; 12.25 percent of consumers have zero security protection installed; 7.07 percent have security software installed but disabled," the company said in a May 30 report.
"The Finns, they got it down; but we're not doing particularly well here in the U.S.," said Gary Davis, McAfee's director of global consumer product marketing, in an interview.
Overall, McAfee researchers said 17 percent of the world "is browsing the Internet completely unprotected," without antivirus or antimalware software.
The company found that "many of the scanned computers have disabled or expired software."
"People tend to say they're protected when they're not because it's the politically correct thing to say, or perhaps they think they're protected because they had trial software, but that has expired," Davis said. And sometimes, users — especially gamers — choose to disable anti-virus software because it can slow a computer down, he said.
While McAfee is only too happy to push its products, of course, there is no lack of "freemium AV" software that consumers can download, Davis said.
The latest research contrasts with a survey McAfee did last fall of 3,000 consumers globally, who were asked to put a dollar value on their digital assets. More than a quarter of them said their files would be "impossible to restore" if lost, and had an average value of $10,014.
"Consumers value their information so highly, yet there are such a high number of
devices unprotected," Davis said.
Among other findings of McAfee's research:
- 83 percent of global PC owners have "working basic security protection."
- Finland was the "most protected, with only 9.7 percent of PCs lacking any security protection."
- Singapore "came out on bottom with 21.75 percent of consumer PCs completely unprotected," and the highest percentage of users — 11.75 percent — with "installed, but disabled, security protection."
© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints