MeriTalk Cyber-security Survey Highlights Work Ahead for Obama

At CES, social networking site MeriTalk releases a survey of more than 500 government CISOs and members of the public on cyber-security. The findings underscore the gap in the understanding of threats, as well as the work President-elect Barack Obama has ahead of him.

Cyber-security has quickly become a focus for the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama. But just how do Americans feel about the cyber-threat landscape?

MeriTalk, an online community for discussions of politics and IT, has a few answers. In conjunction with the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, MeriTalk released a survey of 494 Americans and 20 government CISOs (chief information security officers) about their attitudes toward security.

"The good news is that Americans are very concerned about identity theft and want to protect themselves," said Stephen W.T. O'Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk. "But there's more bad news-the government has sunk billions on cyber-security, yet is not reaching the people-not one of the nearly 500 Americans MeriTalk surveyed is signed up to the National Cyber Alert System."

According to the study, both the public and CISOs agree cyber-threats are increasing, 59 percent and 87 percent, respectively. About 87 percent of CISOs reported an increase in cyber-related incidents in the last year.

The CISOs surveyed said the incoming administration should work to improve communication with the public on cyber-issues, with nearly 87 percent calling for improved alerts and security initiatives. Roughly 73 percent called for improved public education.

Among the government CISOs, the state of IT security seems dire. They rated the current threat level at 8 on a scale of 10 and listed state-sponsored cyber-warfare programs as their biggest concern. Nearly 29 percent of CISOs assert the biggest cyber-security threat to the United States in the next four years will come from uniformed soldiers, with Chinese and Russian forces believed to present the greatest threat.

Politically driven hacker activity is nothing new to the scene, as seen through recent reports of attacks tied to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as the fighting last year between Russia and Georgia.

In the IT security industry, analysts and vendors have called for the incoming president and the law enforcement community to devote more resources to fighting cyber-crime and improve international cooperation. Obama has already pledged to make cyber-security a top priority, and his administration has plans to name a national chief technology officer.

"The new administration needs to prioritize and communicate-and act quickly," O'Keeffe said. "Shoring up the nation's critical infrastructure protection should be Job No. 1."