Seventy-four percent of Americans surveyed want this year’s presidential candidates to focus on protecting government computer systems from cybercriminals, according to the biannual Unisys Security Index, which surveys more than 1,000 people on security concerns.

Paradoxically fewer Americans were concerned about computer security than those in last year’s survey: 39 percent compared to 2011’s 48 percent. And 33 percent of this year’s respondents weren’t concerned at all about computer security.

“The latest results of our survey show that the American people recognize the impact that cyberattacks can have on our critical infrastructure and are looking to the U.S. government to take on a more active role in proactively defending our nation’s key assets,” said Steve Vinsik, Unisys’ vice president of enterprise security, in a company press release.

Protecting government computer systems was the most pressing priority in respondents’ eyes, but the remaining concerns weren’t too far below in importance:

  • 73 percent want to protect the power grid, water utilities and transportation systems from computer or terrorist attacks;
  • 68 percent want to focus on anti-terrorism and homeland security issues;
  • 63 percent want the protection of personal health information against hackers; and
  • 53 percent were concerned with border security.

“It’s interesting that more respondents to our survey said that they were concerned about cyberattacks than physical terror attacks. This illustrates that Americans’ perception of security threats are changing, and our nation’s response to those threats must change too.”

The Lieberman Research Group surveyed the respondents by phone in February 2012 on Unisys’ behalf. Research gauged participants’ feelings on national security, financial security, Internet security and personal security. 

The data yields interesting results for workplace managers. Respondents were questioned on their preferred method of security for mobile devices when being used outside of work. Fifty-five percent of respondents preferred using sophisticated passwords (combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers) for mobile security, 37 percent preferred biometric safeguards, and 32 percent preferred simple passwords.

Complex passwords were No. 1, but Vinsik thinks that biometric controls would be a better option for workplace managers.

“Passwords alone simply do not provide a sufficient level of security to protect sensitive data against today’s sophisticated cybercriminals,” he said. “Organizations need to leverage the use of facial and voice biometrics that most smartphones are capable of supporting today.”

In spite of these findings, overall, Americans are less concerned with cybersecurity issues today than they were a year ago, according to the data. On a scale of zero to 300, the Unisys Security Index score was 131, a moderate level of concern. The score in May 2011 was 164.