E-Shoppers Rattled by U.S. Security Snafus

Recent U.S. government security lapses have made Americans less confident in the security of their personal data online and may have weakened trust in new e-commerce authentication devices like digital signatures, according to a study released Monday by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).

Perhaps most worrisome for those involved in the public sector is the finding that 81 percent of Americans are concerned about the misuse of personal data by government agencies.

According to the survey, titled “Keeping the Faith: Government Information Security in the Internet Age,” 51 percent of Americans said they had become more concerned about computer security in general after this year’s string of security problems at the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory.

Concerns about computer crime made 63 percent of those surveyed less likely to provide personal data to the government.

Private Sector Scores Better

While the government got generally poor reviews for their handling of personal data, the survey also found a relatively higher level of confidence that private sector e-businesses would handle such information properly.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed said either big or small businesses do a better job of protecting personal data, compared to 21 percent who said federal, state and local governments do a better job.

“This survey is a wake-up call for both government and industry,” ITAA president Harris N. Miller said. “Though the Internet revolution is only a few years old, the American people expect that when it comes to their information security and privacy, we had better grow up fast.”

Concern About Digital Signatures

The study also suggested that new methods of payment authentication over the Internet — a key, many believe, to taking e-commerce to the next level — could meet resistance from the general public because of security concerns.

Of those surveyed, 72 percent said they would not feel safe using a secure digital signature to sign a legal document.

With legislation authorizing the use of digital signatures having recently taken effect and lawmakers and computer companies working to implement new methods of identifying individuals, the survey suggested that corporations will have to engage in a publicity campaign to promote acceptance.

Role of Government

“ITAA has advocated that businesses, not the government, are best able to address security and privacy concerns through technology and expertise,” Miller said. “It seems the American public agrees.”

News of the study comes just days after another report suggested that many government Internet initiatives were encroaching on the private sector’s activities and should be curtailed.

“Business and government must work together to solve the security problems of federal computers, so that the overall environment of e-government and e-commerce is a safe place for consumers,” Miller said.

The study, conducted by the research firm of Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, polled 1,000 Americans between September 30th and October 3rd.

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