Fear factor: Americans feeling less secure about nearly everything, survey shows

Concerns about online security on the rise, along with everything else, in latest Unisys survey

Americans are feeling more insecure about almost everything this year, according to a recent survey released by Unisys Corp., but it is difficult to say just why.

The Unisys Security Index, based on a biannual survey of more than 1,000 people in the United States, jumped this year to a score of 164 on a 200-point scale, an increase of more than 20 percent from last fall.

The largest increase in concern came in Internet security, which jumped 40 points to an index figure of 154. But the areas of most serious concern are national and financial security. “The numbers are across the board,” said Unisys CISO Patricia Titus. “People seem to be worried about everything.”

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The spike probably has more to do with public attention than with actual threats. “I don’t know that things have gotten worse, but they haven’t gotten better,” she said.

Titus speculated that with public attention focused late last year on the debates on health care and financial reform, as well as increasingly bitter wrangling in Congress, “security took a back seat.”

Since then, issues such as the Stuxnet worm, the discovery of printer cartridge bombs aboard a commercial airliner and unrest in North Africa and the Mideast have shifted attention toward security. At the same time, people are becoming more connected through the growing use of Internet-enabled mobile devices. People no longer have to wait for time on the family PC to connect with news sites.

“Awareness is being raised about our security vulnerabilities,” Titus said.

Unisys has been doing the survey twice a year since the second half of 2007, and for three years the index hovered between 145 and 151, which is characterized as moderate concern. It dropped sharply to 136 in the last half of 2010 and then spiked to a record high this year. The index is based on random telephone surveys of 1,005 people conducted in mid-February by Lieberman Research Group, which claims a 95 percent confidence level for changes from the last survey.

The index measures four areas:

  • National security – 176
  • Financial security – 174
  • Internet security – 154
  • Personal security – 153

Within Internet security, 48 percent of respondents said they were extremely or very concerned about viruses and spam, with only 17 percent saying they are not concerned – down sharply from 33 percent who said they were not concerned in the last survey. Concern about the security of online transactions also was up sharply, as were worries about unauthorized access to personal information.

Whatever the reason for the increased concerns, Titus said she thinks they are here to stay. “I don’t think we’re going to see a dip in this,” she said. “The numbers are different, everything increased.”

Whether the numbers reflect a real increase in threats or only in awareness, they indicate the need for improving online security, Titus said. “From a security perspective, we’re lagging behind,” she said. “Security needs to be made easier for the consumer; there is no real push by the vendor community to make security easy.”

Although chances for passage of comprehensive federal cybersecurity legislation appear to be fading, Titus was cautiously optimistic about the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace released last month, and the introduction of the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011 (S.799) introduced by senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (I-Conn.).

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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