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[ISN] Surprising percentage of public fears cyberattacks
By Judi Hasson
Sept. 1, 2003
About half of Americans fear terrorists will launch cyberattacks on
the large networks that operate the banking, electrical transportation
and water systems, disrupting everyday life and possibly crippling
economic activity, according to a survey conducted by Federal Computer
Week and the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Some 49 percent of those surveyed said they were afraid of
cyberassaults on key parts of the U.S. economy. A significant gender
gap showed up in the data, as women were more likely to express fear.
People in the Midwest were the most concerned about cyberterrorism.
According to experts, Americans tend to discount the devastating
effects a computer virus or attack can have on the financial,
transportation and health industries. But the high percentage of
Americans who fear an attack - coupled with the fact the poll was
taken before the Blaster worm infected millions of computers worldwide
and prior to the electrical blackout in the Northeast and Canada -
indicate that the public's awareness of the issue, and their fear, has
Alan Paller, a leading expert on information security and research
director for the SANS Institute, a training and education
organization, said the high percentage of Americans worried about
cyberattacks surprised him, but it indicates that the federal
government has done a good job of making people aware of the issue.
"At that high level, it also helps explain why Microsoft [Corp.] is
making a huge policy change in how it handles vulnerabilities and that
most other vendors will be forced to follow," he wrote in an e-mail to
FCW. "Instead of expecting every school child and all users to do
their own security maintenance, the vendors are being forced - kicking
and screaming - into taking responsibility for fixing, automatically
without user knowledge or involvement, every security vulnerability
that could be used in attacks on the infrastructure."
Interviewed after the blackout that hit New York and other major urban
areas, Donna Day, a resident of Wagner, S.C., said she is still
concerned that hackers can break into any computer network. "I'm not
as worried about them breaking into banks as much as [I'm worried they
may do] something like the blackout," Day, 49, said. "If they could
get into a computer and cause something like that, it would shut down
a whole city."
Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of
America, said he's not surprised by the poll results. "People are very
cognizant and concerned about the risks to their information and their
finances from cybersecurity threats," he said. "They realize their
money can be stolen in ways other than robbing a bank."
Computer security expert Peter Neumann, a scientist with the research
firm SRI International, said it's important that the public is
becoming aware of how serious the threat can be. "Until now, the
standard answer you get is, 'We've never had the Pearl Harbor of
cybersecurity, so why worry,' " he said. "We tend not to be on our
toes. And we need to be on our toes."
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