Survey: Cybersecurity concerns climbing

New study shows national security and cyber risks top consumer's list of concerns, but NIST working to get agencies to build security into systems from the start.

Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

A new international survey of consumers finds rising concerns about all manner of security threats, and American are particularly nervous.

The Unisys Security Index survey, the firm's tenth on the issue since 2007, showed 68 percent of respondents said overall national security was their top concern, replacing financial worries in the last survey. The total, said the company, is a 44 percent increase since the last global index in 2014, when 47 percent of respondents were seriously concerned.

Additionally, the overall index score for the U.S. was 169, which the survey categorized as a serious level of concern. The number is up from 123 in 2014, which is considered "moderate."

In the new survey, three cybersecurity issues -- identity theft, bankcard fraud and viruses/hacking -- followed national security as top areas of concern. That's not surprising, said Bill Searcy, Unisys' vice president of global justice, law enforcement and border security, in a June 20 presentation in Washington unveiling the survey results.

The constant drumbeat of terrorist attacks, big data hacks and overall sense of instability is driving the spike in concerns, he said.

National Institute of Standards and Technology Fellow Ron Ross said federal agencies can help allay some of those concerns with better-engineered IT systems that could serve as models for the private sector looking to build cybersecurity into systems from their inception. Ross spoke on an expert panel discussing the survey at its release.

Building security into systems, Ross said, is critical for the future of both economic and physical security, and NIST has been pushing to make it so.

NIST's frameworks for engineering security into IT systems and its cybersecurity risk management can "sit on a shelf forever" and aren't worth anything until someone uses them, said Ross. "We're encouraging federal agencies to use that document [800-160 Systems Security Engineering]," which is the playbook for how to build security into systems, he said. The playbook encourages getting the right mix of managers together before moving ahead with systems development to coordinate on how to proceed and to inject security into the foundation of the project, instead of bolting it on afterward.

Federal agencies should be the model for industry to implement both the engineering and cybersecurity risk management frameworks, Ross said. Using both, he said, can show how to develop requests for proposals that take business/mission and security concerns into account from the beginnings of a project.

NIST is currently working on a formal process to link those engineering, security and business concerns at the beginning of federal agency system development. That, Ross said, would give agencies a way to show they have done detailed security/developmental analyses.

NIST is working on a "Step 0" process, said Ross, that would link up agencies' top mission and business concerns with the development and cybersecurity risk management frameworks and give acquisition, business and security managers a way to document they've considered their angles from the start and are working to build in the appropriate capabilities.

Federal agencies, said Ross, already are building security into their RFPs, but have asked NIST for advice on security and engineering work and how to incorporate NIST's processes. The new step will help agencies decide what they need to include in their development process.

"The risk management framework is a classic six-step process," he said. "We're adding a step 0, coming out in about six weeks."

"Step 0 will link up the mission/business process side of the organization with the risk management framework," Ross explained. "It's going to answer that question 'what controls do I pick?' and tailor them."

The new step will make agencies define and hone their risk management strategy form the start, he said, and "that gives the organization top cover."