Americans see criminal hacking as the top threat to their health, safety and prosperity

laptop thief hacker

Hacking outranks other threats including climate change, nuclear power, hazardous waste, and government surveillance in Americans' perceptions according to a new survey.

The study by cyber security company ESET 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 results show that criminal hacking is rated the top risk, just ahead of air pollution. Another cyber-related risk, the theft or exposure of private data, is rated fourth, after hazardous waste disposal. Government data monitoring ranks only eighth.

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"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," says ESET senior security researcher Stephen Cobb who, with security researcher Lysa Myers, oversaw the survey. "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."

The survey was carried out in late July, early August, after the WannaCry and Petya/NotPetya malware outbreaks but before the Equifax breach. Hacking is seen as a higher risk by those over 45, with 51 percent viewing it as a high or very high risk compared to 47 percent of under 45s. Those aged between 30 and 44 are least concerned.

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"New technology is dramatically accelerating the pace of change in our lives; this transformation can feel both exciting and frightening," says ESET security researcher Lysa Myers. "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."

More about the findings can be found on the ESET blog.

Image credit: Blazej Lyjak/Shutterstock

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