Internet, Computer Security Concerns Americans

More than 70 percent of Americans are concerned about Internet and computer security, according to a survey by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and Tumbleweed Communications Corp. Another 74 percent expressed fears that their personal information on the Internet could be stolen or used for malicious purposes. An equal number said they are concerned that cyber-attacks could target critical infrastructure assets like telephone networks or power plants.

“The attacks of Sept. 11 destroyed lives and property,” said ITAA President Harris Miller. “They also destroyed peace of mind for many people using the Internet. In an era of great uncertainty, a perceived lack of Internet security is generating high anxiety in cyberspace. These survey findings tell me that government, industry and computer users must work together to slam the lid on cyber criminals, terrorists and hackers and to restore the faith of the online community.”

Thirty-five percent of those polled said they are “very concerned” about Internet and computer security and 36 percent said they are “somewhat concerned.” One-third of respondents said they are “very worried” about their personal information on the Internet being stolen or misused; 41 percent said they are “somewhat worried.” Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that their government-held personal information could be misused.

Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents expressed worries about terrorists using the Internet to launch cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure. Thirty-seven percent said they are “very” concerned, while another 37 percent said they are “somewhat” concerned.

Despite the fears of terrorists using the Internet, the survey’s respondents weren’t making major changes in their online behavior as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks or the war on terror. Only 5 percent said they find themselves using the Internet “a lot more” for updates and information, while 34 percent said their usage has stayed the same. Seven percent said they use the Internet “a lot less” since the Sept. 11 tragedy. Even with the Anthrax contamination of mail, email has not become a replacement for postal mail. Fifty-five percent said their use of email has not changed, while 35 percent said they do not use email at all. Only 3 percent said they have made a significant shift to email to avoid paper mail.

The survey contained good news and bad news for the federal officials. While only 17 percent of respondents expressed “complete faith” in the ability of the U.S. government to prevent cyber attacks against agencies, 54 percent said they have “some” faith and only 17 percent said they have “very little faith.” “Big brother” fears also appear to be at a minimum. Few in the survey appear concerned that in the post-Sept. 11 environment their email will be subjected to government sleuthing. Only 10 percent said they are “a lot more” concerned about federal authorities monitoring or reading their email, while 14 percent said they are “somewhat more” concerned.

Luntz Research conducted the random telephone survey of 800 adults on Nov. 26 and 27. The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

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