In the nearly five years since Unisys started conducting the survey, the index numbers for its four categories of threat — personal, national, financial and Internet — have remained relatively stable, but the six months since the last report have witnessed a sudden and unexpected spike in worry.
In March 2011, financial (bank and credit card) security topped the concerns with an index score of 159 (143 six months ago), ahead of personal security at 151 (129), national security at 145 (123), and Internet security at 135 (112).
What is striking, however, is not only the sudden rise but its uniformity across most of the 14 countries and 11,715 people surveyed, with the U.S. nearer the top of a field headed by the usual suspects, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico.
What bothers people the most varies from country to country. U.S. citizens rate national security as the biggest worry, while in the U.K. financial security provokes the most anxiety. People in Hong Kong, by contrast, score national and personal security at levels high enough to be described by Unisys as being “seriously concerned.”
Only two countries, Australia and the Netherlands, showed falling concern across the four indexes, with the latter recording a uniquely low index score of only 64 against an average global figure of 147.
The report’s authors hypothesize that security-oriented news stories might have raised awareness about risks in specific countries but remain open-minded about the roughly 20 per cent rise in worry levels in developed countries such as the U.S.
“Could it be that as a group, Americans have reached an inflection point where we realize just how much the Internet affects every dimension of security?” they said.
Americans are now also especially concerned about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, including bridges, power plants and pipelines, putting this above traditional risks such as airport security.
An interesting undercurrent of the U.S. numbers is a sudden drop in the belief that large companies and government can protect people from the totemic risk of data theft, underscored by major events such as the leaking of confidential U.S. Department of State cables to Wikileaks during 2010.
“There is little confidence in governments’ ability to prevent future data leaks, and about half of respondents [in the U.S.] agree that they have concerns about having their own data made public,” the authors said.
Three-quarters of U.K. respondents said they believed that whistleblowing sites such as Wikileaks “should not be allowed to exist,” ahead of the 42 per cent that held this opinion in the U.S., the country most affected by the site’s most contentious recent revelations.