Loss of personal information as stressful as losing a job

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that their personal online actions can help make the greater online world safer for everyone, including their friends, family, country, and the larger global community of Internet users, a national survey of U.S. adults by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Anti-Phishing Working Group n(APWG) finds.

Ninety-six percent of Americans feel a personal responsibility to be safer and more secure online, while 93 percent said that their online actions can protect not only friends and family, but also help to make the Web safer for everyone around the world. The study also revealed the need for simple, easy-to-understand, actionable resources and tips to help ensure their safety and security online. Access to this type of information would equip and empower them to make more-informed decisions – even before they go online, the poll revealed.

Losing personal information equivalent to job loss

Americans feel most vulnerable about the loss or theft of their personal or financial information. Fifty-four percent of Americans said the prospect of losing this data “extremely concerned” them (based on a rating of eight or higher on a 10-point scale). Losing personal or financial information ranked similar to concern over job loss (53 percent) and not being able to provide healthcare for their family (51 percent).

In terms of specific risks within the online threat landscape, identity theft ranked as the chief fear. Nearly a third of Americans (31 percent) reported identity theft as their greatest concern to personal safety and security on the Internet. The fear of someone hacking into their financial information or accounts ranked a close second, with a quarter of Americans listing it as their greatest worry.

“Losing their identity, personal or financial information to a criminal gang is a daunting fear for Americans, one that ranks with job security and access to health care,” said APWG Secretary General Peter Cassidy. “It’s no wonder that many Americans are already taking steps to protect their online lives. Still, our findings bear out that consumers are also anxious to learn more about what to do to take control of their digital lives. Clearly, they crave personal control.”

Personal control key to feeling safer online

Overall, Americans feel safest online when they are taking independent action for their own Internet security. Sixty-one percent believe that much of online safety and security falls under their personal control, and consistent with those feelings, 90 percent said they want to learn more about keeping safer on the Internet.

When asked why they don’t always do all the things they can or should do to stay safer online, most Americans said they simply lacked the information or knowledge (28 percent) – a surprising finding that surpassed other hurdles often sited by the media. Only 12 percent said online safety was too expensive, while just 5 percent said they were too busy to take the extra step.