Unisys Security Index Reveals Sharp Increase in U.S. Concern about Internet Security

 Author(s): , Posted on May 4th, 2011

Today we released the latest round of the U.S. results from the Unisys Security Index (USI),which surveys 1,000 Americans about multiple dimensions of security. The results were a bit startling –- they showed a sizable jump in concern in America.

To be more precise, the overall jump was over 20 percent — a statistically significant difference from the last time the survey was taken, back in October 2010. So we convened a group of our top security experts at Unisys to talk about the reasons why this could be true.

It was a spirited discussion. When we looked deeper into the stats, we found that the increase in concern spanned nearly every security issue we measure — a rare occurrence in the five-year history of the USI.

Concern about personal security, which comprises personal identity information and actual physical safety, rose by 15.9 percent. Our group of security experts wracked their brains to come up with reasons to explain this increase. But in the absence of a recent major news item that might provoke it, this response seemed curious.

Results also showed an 18.4 percent increase in worry over financial security. Some of our security gurus found this surprising as well, given some of the positive indications of economic growth so far in 2011. Others believed that perhaps it was an indication that many Americans simply still hadn’t yet felt signs of economic recovery. But again, without a recent or new major financial crisis in the news, the rise seemed difficult to explain on its own.

Then we looked at national security, where the index rose 16.5 percent. To try and explain this, we talked through a great deal of recent geopolitical history. We discussed WikiLeaks and its impact on American reputation. We talked about upheaval in the Middle East. We talked about the Yemeni cargo bomb. These were indeed significant events, but there had also been many others during the history of the USI that hadn’t necessarily coincided with a big jump like this.

Across three of the four dimensions of security we mentioned, the index increases were significant, if relatively similarly sized. But then we looked at the index reading for Internet security — and here we saw a whopping 35.1 percent rise. That’s when our discussion began to crystallize a bit toward a hypothesis.

As WikiLeaks unfolded, Americans watched the Internet used as a tool to expose classified intelligence information. Then they watched sympathetic hackers use the Internet to attack financial organizations in support of the WikiLeaks effort. And then, Americans watched the Internet play a major role in the toppling of the Egyptian government.

Americans had been presented, in very short duration, multiple stories of the Internet changing the global security landscape. Then we thought about the continuing trend of consumerization of IT in the U.S. Smartphone adoption and use is at its highest point yet. More people are constantly connected to the Internet than ever, and even our oldest citizens are using social networking to get their news.

The question that rose to the top: Have Americans’ constant connection to the Internet raised our overall awareness of all of the potential threats to our security? And just as interestingly, could it be that as a group, Americans have reached an inflection point where we realize just how much the Internet affects every dimension of security?

It’s our hope that discussion around the findings from this latest iteration of the Unisys Security Index will help us address those questions while providing actionable information on making the U.S. and its citizens more secure. Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think the results mean.

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