Poll: Lightning strike more likely than breach

A poll by the National Cyber Security Alliance found 30% to 40% of respondents think it's more likely they'll get hit by lightning than suffer an Internet attack.

More than 30% of those polled by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) think they'll take a bolt of lightning through the chest before they see their computers violated in an Internet attack.

That and other findings show it's more important than ever to make people aware of the online threats they face, NCSA Chairman Ken Watson said as he declared October National Cyber Security Awareness Month in Washington D.C. Thursday.

Noting that more than 185 million Americans own computers connected to the Internet, Watson said, "Cybersecurity should become second nature, just like brushing our teeth. Industry projections note that by year's end, Internet users will have been confronted by an estimated 100,000 forms of malicious code. About 91% of PCs today are infected with spyware programs that send information from your PC to an unauthorized third party."

The straw poll of 493 people was conducted at the Digital Edge Expo in Washington, D.C. Sept. 18 and 19. More than 70% of those asked said their concern about Internet security has grown in the last year. But more than 30% believe they're more likely to win the lottery, get hit by lightning or audited by the IRS than become the victims of a cyber attack. The number increases to 40% in the under-25 age group, Watson said.

While almost 90% of respondents remembered the name of the Super Bowl halftime entertainment performer, less than 60% could remember the last time they updated their security software. A full report on the poll is available at Staysafeonline.info, a Web site sponsored by the alliance. The site also includes a list of security tips and other features.

Speakers at Thursday's kick-off of National Cyber Security Awareness Month included Jack Suess, CIO for the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. He said students and faculty use a wide variety of computer programs, not all of them protected, and the institution is working hard to raise the awareness level.

"This September we created a security CD and gave it out to students," he said. "It sets their machines up with the necessary patches and other tools to protect them against spyware and other threats."

Brian Zwit, director of integrity assurance for America Online, told the audience that people have a responsibility to protect themselves. "Once they have the awareness, our hope is that users will be inspired to take action," he said. "We also hope this will make people take more care when they're online."

Events will target specific groups and be broken into four week-long components:

  • Oct. 4-10: home users;
  • Oct. 11-17: small businesses;
  • Oct. 18-24: education;
  • Oct. 25-31: child safety online.

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