The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, October 12, 2021 1:00 am

Most Americans leery of cyberattacks: Poll

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Most Americans across party lines have serious concerns about cyberattacks on U.S. computer systems and view China and Russia as major threats, according to a new poll.

The poll by The Pearson Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that about 9 in 10 Americans are at least somewhat concerned about hacking that involves their personal information, financial institutions, government agencies or certain utilities. About two-thirds say they are very or extremely concerned.

Roughly three-quarters say the Chinese and Russian governments are major threats to the cybersecurity of the U.S. government, and at least half also see the Iranian government and non-government bodies as threatening.

The broad consensus highlights the growing impacts of cyberattacks in an increasingly connected world and could boost efforts by President Joe Biden and lawmakers to force critical industries to boost their cyber defenses and impose reporting requirements for companies that get hacked. The poll comes amid a wave of high-profile ransomware attacks and cyber espionage campaigns in the last year that have compromised sensitive government records and led to the shutdown of the operations of energy companies, hospitals, schools and others.

“It's pretty uncommon nowadays to find issues that both large majorities of Republicans and Democrats” view as a problem, said David Sterrett, a senior research scientist at The AP-NORC Center.

Biden has made cybersecurity a key issue in his young administration and federal lawmakers are considering legislation to strengthen both public and private cyber defenses.

Michael Daniel, CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance and a former top cybersecurity official during the Obama administration, said the poll shows the public is firmly aware of the kind of threats posed online that cybersecurity experts have been stressing for years.

“We don't need to do a whole lot more awareness raising,” he said.

The explosion in the last year of ransomware, in which cybercriminals encrypt an organization's data then demand payment to unscramble it, has underscored how gangs of extortionist hackers can disrupt the economy and put lives and livelihoods at risk.

Older adults are much more likely to view Russia and China as serious threats. A large majority of adults over 60 say the Russian and the Chinese governments are a big threat, but only about half of those under 30 agree.

Democrats – at 79% – are more likely than Republicans – 70% – to say the Russian government is a big threat. Former President Donald Trump has routinely downplayed Russian aggression.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,071 adults was conducted Sept. 9-13, using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Omnibus, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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