Hackers can then use a victim's home computers as if sitting at it - doing everything from switching on the webcam to looking through personal files on the hard drive.

Johannesburg - If you are young, black and live on less than R1 500 a month, you are part of the biggest group of internet users in the country.

“Two out of three internet users speak an African language at home, most have not been educated beyond school and four out of 10 live on less than R1 500 per month,” said Wits University researcher Indra de Lanerolle.

He has released research findings that show the average internet user in South Africa has changed dramatically.

“Internet use has more than doubled in the last four years,” De Lanerolle found.

He found 34 percent of adult South Africans use the internet and predicts more than half the population will be online by 2014 and two-thirds by 2016.

The report - giving the first results of The South African Network Society Survey - is based on face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1 589 South African adults in rural and urban areas.

Almost three-quarters of them use their cellphones to go online, though only a minority are entirely dependent on cellphones to get online.

Most don’t own computers but use PCs to get Internet access via Internet cafés or other public or shared facilities.

According to a press release, De Lanerolle said: "Our results show there is a New Wave of users who have come online in the last few years. Their presence is something that business, government, political parties and civil society should be responding to."

Other key findings in the report include:

* Most new Internet users (52%) first used the internet on their phones

* Most (54%) of those at school or college are internet users.

* More people now go online daily (22%) than daily read a newspaper (17%).

According to the press relase, the report finds that people start using the Internet to learn, to connect cheaply and efficiently with friends and family and to help them in their work and even to look for work. The top five reasons for first going online are: to get information, to socialise, for study, for work or business and to look for a job.

But the report also describes some of the barriers to reaching the 66% who are not online. Half (50%) of these non-users say they don't know what the Internet is and only 4% of them own a computer.

De Lanerolle argues that reaching these people is not guaranteed:

"Our research indicates that ordinary South Africans are now finding social and economic benefits from going online. But in order for most South Africans get access to the Internet we need to increase the availability of facilities at Internet cafes, libraries, schools and colleges and we need to reduce prices of mobile data."

The report finds that one of the greatest impediments to internet use is English language literacy. According to the report, about one in five adults do not read and write English easily and almost none of these people (3%) use the Internet.

"The New Wave of users are not rich, but they are literate in English. Until the South African internet becomes much more multi-lingual, and until internet connection speeds are fast enough to easily enable access to voice and video content as well as text then millions of South Africans who should be part of the next wave of users are going to remain locked out"

South Africa is the most connected country on the continent, but less connected compared to middle-income countries in Latin America. In Columbia, 51 percent of people are wired compared to South Africa’s 34 percent .


* “The New Wave - who uses the Internet in South Africa, where they use it and what they use it for” was written by De Lanerolle, who is a visiting research associate at the University of Witwatersrand and leader of the South African Network Society Survey.

The project is a partner in the World Internet Project - a global network of Internet researchers. Consultant was Dr Mark Orkin, former head of Statistics South Africa.

The full report is available at http://www.networksociety.co.zahttp://networksociety.co.za where you can also download infographics from the report. - The Star, IOL