Eighteen percent of online adults in the U.S. have had important personal data
stolen. That key takeaway from a new Pew Research Center study highlights the crisis in data protection
The January 2014 survey, released on Monday, points to a seven percentage-point increase in personal information theft compared with the 11 percent of respondents in July of last year who also reported the theft of their Social Security number, credit card, bank account information or comparable data.
Similarly, when looking just at the 18-to-29 age group, the percentage aware that their personal information had been stolen has risen to 15 percent, from 7 percent last year. For the 50-to-64 age group, it's 20 percent in this survey, 11 percent last year. Differences in other age groups, Pew said, were not "statistically significant."
However, the 21 percent who reported an e-mail or social networking account had been compromised or hijacked was the same number as in July.
Overall, half of all online adults now worry about the security of their personal information online, compared with 29 percent in 2009.
The survey used phone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,002 adults in the continental U.S. About half were conducted via land line and half by cell phone, and in both English and Spanish.
This Pew report is only the latest to show an increasing interest among Internet users in protecting their online selves. In a Pew Research Internet Project report from September of last year about online anonymity, for instance, 59 percent said that "people should have the ability to use the Internet completely anonymously." In particular, the 18-29 group is most likely to use strategies to be less visible online.
In 2012, Javelin Strategy & Research reported nearly 13 million victims of identity theft in the U.S. alone, increasing at the rate of one new victim every three seconds. More unexpectedly, credit reporting agency TransUnion has said that nearly a third of identity theft victims found out that the culprit was none other than a family member or other relative. For another 18 percent, the agency said, the data thief was a friend, neighbor or in-home employee.
But brace yourself for the next Pew report on the subject, since the repercussions are still being felt from two huge security vulnerabilities -- the loss of credit- and debit-card information for 40 million Target customers in December, plus an even larger number of stolen e-mail and mail customer addresses, and the recent discovery and publicity surrounding the still-unresolved Heartbleed security flaw involving thousands of Web sites.
Some security analysts have noted that there have been very few reported data thefts as a result of the potentially disastrous Heartbleed vulnerability, but that could be changing.
On Monday, for instance, the Canada Revenue Agency -- that country's equivalent to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service -- said that about 900 social insurance numbers had been stolen from its computers, apparently as a result of Heartbleed.