Americans believe criminal hacking into computer systems is now a top risk to their health, safety and prosperity. Criminal hacking, a new ESET survey finds, outranks other significant hazards, including climate change, nuclear power, hazardous waste, and government surveillance.
The survey was conducted by ESET security researchers, and asked randomly selected adults to rate their risk perception of 15 different hazards. Six of the hazards were cyber-related while the rest were other forms of technology hazard.
The data revealed that criminal hacking was rated the top risk, with air pollution coming in second. Another cyber-related risk, the theft or exposure of private data, was rated fourth, after hazardous waste disposal.
“To be honest, I was pretty shocked at the results, so much so that we ran the survey a second time… and lo and behold, we got the same result. For many years, social scientists have studied how the public perceives a range of technology risks, but as far as we know, this is the first time anyone has put ‘cyber-risks’ into the mix,” said ESET Senior Security Researcher Stephen Cobb.
ESET Security Researcher Lysa Myers noted, “New technology is dramatically accelerating the pace of change in our lives; this transformation can feel both exciting and frightening. The Internet has only recently become a part of our day to day activities, so it may feel both ubiquitous and yet alien to many people.”
“Our goal with this study was to place those cyber-related risks in the broader context of more established and more thoroughly documented risks; and the results strongly suggest that cyber-risks are now front and center in the American consciousness.”
Age and the preception of cyber risk
The age breakdown was 21% age 18-29, 25% age 30-44, 30% age 45-59, and 25% age 60 and over. More than half of respondents (53%) were in full-time employment.
Using standard quantitative methods the researchers found significant demographic differences in the perception of cyber risk. For example, age makes a difference in perception of criminal hacking. Respondents under 45 years old tend to see less risk in criminal hacking than those who are 45 or older.
Income also matters. Respondents with household income under $75,000 tend to rate the risk of criminal hacking as high or very high more often than those with household income above that (58% versus 48%).