network security researchDelving into the issue of online data breaches and theft, a Pew Research Center study indicates that a growing number of Americans have been victims. According to a January 2014 survey, 18% of online adults have had important personal information stolen, including Social Security numbers, credit card data, or bank account information. That’s 11% higher than was reported in a July 2013 survey.

In addition, 21% of online adults reported they had an email or social networking account compromised or taken without their permission. That was unchanged from 2013.

Online security and data theft has been making national and international headlines over the past year, as evidenced by the Heartbleed data security flaw, huge security breaches and the loss of valuable customer personal data at Target and Neiman Marcus, and online snooping by the NSA revealed by Edward Snowden.

“The consequences of these flaws and breaches may add insult to injury for those who have already experienced some kind of personal information theft,” Pew Research Center highlights in a press release. “And research suggests that young adults and younger baby boomers may have been especially hard hit in the second half of 2013.”

According to this year’s survey, 15% of young adults were aware they have had important personal information stolen. That compares to 7% in last year’s survey.

Older adults are significantly more likely to be victims of personal data theft. Twenty percent of online adults 50-64 in this January’s survey said they were aware they had been victims as compared to 11% last July.

With online activity becoming embedded more deeply in their lives, more Americans are worried about online privacy, the amount of personal information they have online, and the threat of having important personal data stolen.

“When we look at how broad measures of concern among adults have changed over the past five years, we find that Internet users have become more worried about the amount of personal information available about them online—50% reported this concern in January 2014, up from 33% in 2009,” Pew notes.

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