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Security fears at all-time high

Consumer anxiety about security is at an all-time high, according to the global Unisys Security Index to be released Tuesday. National security is the new number one security concern for Americans, kicking financial security out of the top fear in the last survey in 2014. Americans' concerns about internet security — specifically viruses and hacking —rose most dramatically over the last 3 years, coming in as the number two concern.

Data: Unisys Security Index; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

By comparison, respondents in other countries surveyed —particularly in developing nations— rated identity theft or bankcard fraud as their top concern. In the U.S., concerns about card and ID theft stayed relatively unchanged over the last 3 years.

What's happening: Americans increasingly feel they have lost control of their ability to protect themselves from physical and digital threats in a world that not only seems more dangerous than ever, but also one that is more interconnected than ever. The trust Americans have historically put in both government and companies is eroding, driving record levels of anxiety.

Catch-22: Security in the U.S. is a web of paradoxes:

  • Americans want more protection from cyber and physical, but are increasingly wary of the organizations that would typically provide it.
  • Consumers know many types of online transactions may not be safe, yet they forgo privacy for the convenience of banking on their phones or shopping on an unsecured internet connection.
  • They are extremely concerned about hacks and viruses, yet can't bothered to install software updates and take other precautions.
  • "At the same time that we are telling officials we want more security and facing more significant threats, we're cutting their budgets," said Bill Searcy, vice president, global justice, law enforcement and border security for Unisys and a former FBI deputy assistant director.

"The concern is being driven by the fact that we essentially have to do business online these days," Searcy told Axios. "People realize they are so connected and dependent on our online identity, that if something would happen, it would really be bad."

The solution? Consumers have to demand stronger security protections, and governments and companies have to invest in delivering them, said Frank Cilluffo, director for the center for cyber and homeland security at The George Washington University. "I don't think we'll ever build high enough walls and wide enough motes and big enough locks," he told Axios. "Consumers have to start taking security more seriously."

Additional findings:

  • Concern is 13 points higher among 18-24 year-olds than 55-65 year-olds
  • Concern is 14 points higher among those with lower income than with higher income.