Americans’ unease about cybercrime towers over conventional crimes

Americans are more concerned about possibly falling victim to a crime made possible by the internet than any one “conventional” crime, a recent poll has shown.

As many as 67% of adult Americans are anxious, be it frequently or occasionally, about “having their personal, credit card or financial information stolen by computer hackers”, according to the annual Crime poll conducted by Gallup. Fear of identity theft came in a close second at 66%.

Meanwhile, the next worst-feared crime – having one’s car stolen or broken into – came in a distant third in the 13-item worry list, raising concern on the part of 38% of a random sample of 1,028 respondents queried between October 5–11.

Indeed, Gallup itself was quick to note that “since 2009, Americans’ anxiety about identity theft has consistently topped their fears about other crimes by at least 19 percentage points”.

It was in that year that Gallup began to canvass Americans’ sentiments on identity theft, with the concerns about this crime consistently between 66-70% ever since. The question regarding hackers stealing personal information was added to the survey this year, “though prior surveys included questions on narrower cybercrime-related issues”.

The high level of fear of cybercrime dovetails with the self-reported rates of victimization, as 25% of the respondents reported that their personal information or that of their household member has been stolen by hackers over the past 12 months. When it comes to identity theft, the same was true for 16% of those asked.

Americans' more concerned about criminal hacking

Image credit: Gallup

These findings also echo those of ESET’s own research, which revealed that Americans believe “criminal hacking into computer systems” is now a top risk to their health, safety and prosperity.

In a survey conducted this summer, ESET researchers Stephen Cobb and Lysa Myers found that US adults rated criminal hacking as more of a risk than other significant hazards, including climate change, nuclear power, and hazardous waste.

Yet again, reports of a conventional form of crime, “money or property was stolen from you or another member of your household”, only came in third on 12 percent.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported an average of 280,000 complaints a year from 2000-2016, Gallup noted.

The poll was conducted in the wake of a massive data breach at US credit checking company Equifax, which occurred from May through July 2017 but didn’t make headlines until Equifax’s confirmation of the incident on September 7.

This breach, which saw hackers make off with the data of 143 million people, was itself preceded by reports of a rash of other high-profile data breaches in recent years.

The hacking of infidelity site Ashley Madison – while not the largest, it was unprecedented given the nature of the site’s service – affected 37 million people. The list of US-based businesses to have suffered major data breaches in recent years includes home improvement retailer Home Depot in 2014 and retail giant Target in late 2013.

Arguably, Yahoo has eclipsed them all, having suffered from two massive breaches in recent years, including one in 2013 that turned out last month to have affected all three billion user accounts on the service.

All told, the prevalence of large-scale security incidents – and the extensive media coverage thereof – are seen as having contributed to the Americans’ worry of cybercrime.

About Writer: Tomáš Foltýn is security writer for WeLiveSecurity.

Author , ESET

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