SAN MATEO, CA – March 15, 2016 – Almost two-thirds of people who work in the IT & security industries believe that government surveillance is so pervasive that they do not expect to be able to have a private conversation on any device, according to new research conducted by Unified Security Management™ and crowd-sourced threat intelligence leader, AlienVault™.
The research, which surveyed the attitudes of more than 1,500 IT & security professionals about privacy issues, found that only a third (34 percent) believe that the government should be able to monitor mass communications for national security purposes. This is in stark contrast to the wider public, 60 percent of whom support this type of government surveillance.
This difference of opinion could be because those working in the IT & security industries can see the wider implications of this lack of privacy. When asked what those implications could be, the largest group (58 percent) believes that mass surveillance could in fact lead to governments prosecuting people for different types of crime based on their private conversations, and almost half (48 percent) believe that people will stop trusting US firms as a result.
Javvad Malik, security advocate for AlienVault, explained: “Those in the IT & security industries are uniquely positioned to comment on privacy, because they understand the tools and processes that are frequently used to circumnavigate security protocols. We often find that the same vulnerabilities used by intelligence agencies to spy on global citizens can also be exploited by criminals to steal your passwords. This gives them a unique perspective on privacy debates and explains why they often have quite different views when compared to the general public.”
When asked what they thought were the most effective ways to protect personal privacy online, the largest group (64 percent) said that they wanted to see stronger encryption being made available. Almost half (49 percent) suggest that people should not communicate sensitive information online at all, while others (30 percent) suggested that using anonymous tools like TOR could offer protection. Only around a third of respondents (34 percent) cited tougher privacy legislation as a viable means of protecting privacy, suggesting skepticism among IT professionals about how widely privacy legislation is actually being adhered to.
The study also offers a unique perspective into the ongoing debate between Apple and the FBI over access to the iPhone belonging to the San Bernadino shooter. Two-thirds of those surveyed (63 percent) support Apple and do not believe that they should comply with the FBI by unlocking the phone. In a recent survey among the US public, just 38 percent of American citizens supported this view.
Most surveyed IT & security professionals also believe that there is more to the Apple/FBI debate than meets the eye. More than half of those surveyed (51 percent) believe that the FBI is really using the case to set a new legal precedent to be able to unlock all devices made by Apple and other tech companies in the future. Only a third (33 percent) believes that if Apple complies with the FBI’s demands, it will help law enforcement catch criminals before it’s too late. Almost double that number, 61 percent of respondents, believe that if Apple complies with the demands, it will weaken its product security overall.
However, respondents also expressed mistrust about the wider motives of companies such as Apple who discuss privacy issues in the media. Almost half (45 percent) believe that companies who engage in public discussions on this issue are trying to generate PR by jumping into these debates, or to protect their brand identity by being seen to be a responsible and ethical vendor (45 percent).
Javvad Malik continues, “We are clearly at a turning point in the history of Internet surveillance and suspicions among those in the know are running high. IT & security professionals can see straight through the public arguments being made about the Apple case. Many seem to view it as a power grab by the FBI, and an attempt to gain significant new powers that could undermine the communications infrastructure used by us all. But whatever the underlying motives may be, the outcome of this case will clearly have broader implications on future government attempts to access encrypted information, and the development of legal frameworks for state surveillance powers, such as the Investigatory Powers Bill in the UK.”
To access the full report, please click here: Privacy, The Feds & Government Surveillance.
The AlienVault research surveyed the opinions of 1,592 IT security professionals. Of these, 987 were collected at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, between 29 February and 4 March 2016. The remaining 605 responses were collected online during the same time period.
 Comparitech survey, February 2016: http://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500276373/Majority-of-Britons-support-government-surveillance-for-national-security
 Pew Research survey, February 2016: http://www.people-press.org/2016/02/22/more-support-for-justice-department-than-for-apple-in-dispute-over-unlocking-iphone/