RICHMOND, AND. (AP) – Many Americans are seriously concerned about cyber attacks on U.S. computer systems and see China and Russia as a major threat.
A survey by The Pearson Institute and the -NORC Public Relations Research Center found that at least 9 out of 10 Americans are concerned about hacking their personal information, financial institutions, government agencies or some utilities. . About two-thirds say they are very worried.
About three-quarters say the Chinese and Russian governments pose a major threat to the U.S. government’s cybersecurity, and at least half see the Iranian government and NGOs as a threat.
The broad consensus underscores the growing impact of cyberattacks in an increasingly relevant world, and could prompt President Joe Biden and lawmakers to strengthen cyber protection for key networks and demand accountability for companies that have been hacked. The survey was conducted last year amid a wave of high-level ransomware attacks and cyber espionage campaigns that violated government sensitive records and led to the closure of energy companies, hospitals, schools and more.
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“It’s rare to find issues that both Republicans and Democrats see as a problem for many,” said David Sterrett, a senior fellow at the AP-NORC Center.
Biden has made cybersecurity a major issue for his younger administration, and federal lawmakers are considering laws to strengthen both public and private cybersecurity.
Michael Daniel, CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance and a former senior cybersecurity official during the Obama administration, said the survey shows that the public is well aware of the type of threats cybersecurity experts have been highlighting for years.
“We don’t have to do more explanatory work,” he said.
The explosion in the last year of a payment program in which cybercriminals encrypt an organization’s data and then demand payment to open it has shown how gangs of extortionist hackers can disrupt the economy and endanger lives and livelihoods.
One of the most devastating cyber incidents this year was an ransomware attack on the company that owns the country’s largest fuel pipeline in May, leading to a gas shortage along the East Coast. A few weeks later, an ransomware attack on the world’s largest meat processing company halted production worldwide.
Victims of paid software attacks ranged from major U.S. agencies and Fortune 500 companies to small businesses in Leonardtown, Maryland, making it one of hundreds of organizations around the world.
“We were finally lucky, but it opened our eyes to the fact that it could happen to anyone,” said Mayor Laschelle McKay. He said Leonardtown’s IT provider was able to restore the city’s network and files a few days later.
The criminal syndicates that dominate the ransomware business are mostly Russian-speaking and come from Russia or countries allied with Russia with almost impunity. The U.S. government has also accused Russian spies of a major breach of U.S. government agencies, known as the SolarWinds hacker, whose product was used to hack a U.S. software company.
China has also been active. In July, the Biden administration officially accused China of violating the Microsoft Exchange email server program and confirmed that criminal hackers linked to the Chinese government were carrying out payment software attacks and other illegal cyber operations.
“The number of Chinese cyber actors unites the rest of the world,” said Rob Joyce, director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency. “The elite in this group is really elite. It’s a lot of law.”
Both Russia and China have denied any wrongdoing.
Older people see Russia and China as a serious threat. Most adults over the age of 60 say the Russian and Chinese governments pose a major threat, but only half of those under the age of 30 agree.
Democrats – 79% – 70% more than Republicans – are more likely to say the Russian government is a big threat. Former President, Republican Donald Trump has consistently downplayed Russian aggression. In his first comments since SolarWinds hackers were found in December, Trump spoke out against his secretary of state and other senior officials, suggesting without proof that China was behind the campaign.
The AP-NORC survey of 1,071 adults was conducted Sept. 9-13 using a sample designed for a representative of the U.S. population from NORC’s probable ameriSpeak Omnibus. The sampling error limit for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.