cyber security

Nearly half of Americans change online passwords to protect privacy following US election hacking, poll shows

Following the leak of Democratic Party emails during last year’s presidential election, Americans are making changes to how they protect their privacy online with measures ranging from switching passwords to sticking tape over their webcams, a poll has shown.

The US intelligence services have formally accused the Russian government of interference in the 2016 US presidential election, stating that its goals were to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Hillary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency”.

Emails from the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee were stolen and passed on to WikiLeaks. The organisation publicly released 20,000 emails and documents in June 2016, and continued to leak information daily during the run-up to the US presidential election. Russian officials have denied involvement in the cyber attacks.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, which surveyed 3,307 adults across all 50 states, 40 per cent of Americans have become more cautious about what they write in their emails after news of the hacking emerged.

Democrats proved slightly more cautious, with 43 per cent of Democrats practicing more caution compared with 40 per cent of Republicans.

In spite of participants reporting that they had become more wary of their data being stolen, the majority of Americans have not changed their online habits since news of the hacking broke.

Some 46 per cent of the adults polled had taken actions to protect their privacy.

The easiest and most common action to take, the poll suggested, was to change your online passwords; 45 per cent of Americans had done this.

Delene Rutledge, a retired teacher from Indiana who took part in the poll commented: “I’m not the greatest at coming up with great passwords – I’m not sure it would make any difference.”

Some Americans appear to have been put off features of their smart devices and software which collect personal data. Some 21 per cent have tried turning off tracking on their internet browsers, 10 per cent unplugging internet-connected devices such as smart TVs and speakers, and 4 per cent switching out their interconnected smart devices for simpler replacements.

A surprisingly popular measure being taken is to stick tape over computer cameras. This tactic has been advocated by FBI director James Comey as a common sense security measure. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has also been revealed to cover his MacBook’s camera and microphone.

A small number of Americans have changed their internet browsers (12 per cent), or switched to an encrypted messaging service such as WhatsApp (5 per cent).

For most Americans, personal privacy trumps potential benefit to national security. Few respondents reported being happy to disclose their emails, texts, phone messages or internet activity for protection against terrorism, or to protect national networks and infrastructure from cyber attacks.

Just 7 per cent said that they believed the US government needed to carry out more surveillance on American citizens.

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