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Majority of Americans support Internet kill switch, says poll

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A clear majority of Americans would support giving the president authority to shut down portions of the Internet should there be "clear evidence" of a cyber attack by a foreign government, according to the results of a biannual poll of U.S. attitudes toward security.

The survey, conducted via the telephone on August 20 through 22 of this year by the Lieberman Research Group on behalf of Unisys, found that 61 percent of Americans said that, should a foreign government launch a cyber attack against the military, civilian government, electrical grid, financial systems or other critical infrastructure, then the president should have authority to turn parts of the Internet off.

The idea of an Internet "kill switch" at the disposal of the U.S. government has been a controversial one, with many opponents questioning the need for one and its efficacy.

"The Internet is the largest communications system mankind has ever created, and it works because it is distributed. There is no central authority. No nation is in charge. Plugging all the holes isn't possible," wrote cybersecurity researcher and blogger Bruce Schneier this year.

Americans appear to support the kill switch despite feeling less concerned about email security, the poll finds. It aggregates responses to questions such as degree of concern over computer viruses or unsolicited emails into a number, which in the second half of 2010 amounts to 114, an 18-point decrease from the first half of 2010.

The vast majority of Americans connect to the Internet, mostly via a computer rather than a mobile device--and only about a third use social media, the poll finds (see chart).

Americans also feel more secure about their personal safety, national security and financial security, meaning that the overall security index representing combined concern over all polled security issues is 136, a significant drop from the 147 of earlier this year.

"In fact, this captures the lowest level of concern since the benchmark was inaugurated in the second half of 2007," the poll report says.

For more:
- download the U.S. Unisys Security Index (reg. req.)
- read the Unisys press release

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