News Column

Nearly 1 in 10 has had identity stolen, RMU poll finds

September 3, 2014

By Melissa Daniels, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sept. 03--Nearly one in 10 Americans has experienced digital identity theft and one in three has had a credit card number stolen, but still Americans don't do all they can to protect themselves, a recent poll found.

The figures come from Robert Morris University Polling Institute based in Moon Township, taken in a national survey on data security, password protection and other issues.

Karen Paullett, an assistant professor of computer and information systems at Robert Morris, said cyber attacks are on the rise in part because many consumers aren't protecting their devices with antivirus software.

"We fail to have this security measure in place for mobile devices," Paullett said.

The survey, of which Trib Total Media is a sponsor, found approximately one in five smartphone and tablet users has antivirus software. More than 60 percent of respondents have protection installed on desktop computers, and 62 percent on laptops.

Over the weekend, a high-profile hack occurred on what appeared to be phone accounts of female celebrities such as actress Jennifer Lawrence. Nude photos and private selfies leaked en masse onto the Internet. Some reports indicated the photos appeared to come from the iCloud, a file-storage system for Apple iPhones. Apple released a statement on the case Tuesday, condemning the leak and defending its security.

The accounts, Apple said, "were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet."

Password requirements and security questions do not offer meaningful protection from hackers, said David Thaw, a cyber security expert and professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Data breaches are much more likely to go through where the information is stored, rather than through the user, Thaw said.

"Complex passwords should not be the mechanism of defense," he said. "In virtually every instance, there is a better mechanism of defense than a complex password."

Security questions used to "reset" passwords can be circumvented easily, Thaw said. Determining a mother's maiden name or high school mascot is as quick as a public records search on Google, he said.

Such measures may offer the guise of security. The survey found 60.5 percent of respondents think complex and demanding password requirements are "reassuring" rather than "frustrating."

"Unfortunately, the consumer is really at the mercy of the information security practices of the company," Thaw said.

RMU polled 1,001 respondents online representing all states from Aug. 18 to Aug. 22 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. It polled an additional 500 respondents from Pennsylvania at a margin of error of 4.5 percent percentage points.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or


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Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)

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