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Cyberattacks truly scare Americans, but they’re not the #1 fear

The only thing scarier than cyber attacks? Terror attacks. According to a new survey from Pew Research, while ISIS causes the most consternation among Americans, digital security comes in at a close second. 80 percent of survey respondents said they believed the extremist organization posed a major threat to the U.S.’s well-being, whereas 72 percent thought that cyberattacks are a great threat.

Pew Research’s study was based upon answers received from 2,008 adults living across the U.S. Its results come at a time when global headlines often seem to reflect the digital vulnerabilities of organizations both in the public and private sphere. From healthcare companies to banks to governments, it would appear that no one is completely safe from malicious hackers. Indeed, the White House has referred to cyberattacks as “an increasingly serious cyber threat to U.S. critical industries.” This is particularly relevant with certain hacking groups linked to foreign countries, namely China and Russia, as well as with terrorist organizations like ISIS.

Just last Christmas, Russian hackers carried out the first ever successful attack of a nation’s power grid, plunging over 200,000 Ukrainians into darkness. “There’s never been an intentional cyberattack that has taken the electric grid down before,” Robert M. Lee of the SANS Institute told the New York Times about the incident. This raised considerable concerns within the U.S., with Ted Koppel noting vulnerabilities in the American system. “We have 3,200 power companies, and we need a precise balance between the amount of electricity that is generated and the amount that is used,” Koppel said. “And that can only be done over a system run on the Internet. The Ukrainians were lucky to have antiquated systems.”

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Interestingly enough, while both cyberattacks and ISIS are a major cause for concern among Americans, climate change remains a relative non-issue. It ranked sixth on the list of salient problems, behind the refugee crisis, global economic instability, and the spread of infectious disease. Just 53 percent of respondents said that global warming and climate change constituted a real threat.

All the same, there seems to be plenty to worry about.