Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff spoke at the National Press Club this morning, citing insightful new research: while Americans are highly concerned about the security of their personal data online, 87 percent of Americans do not realize their exposure to online identity threats. He echoed the cyber security theme that current Secretary Janet Napolitano focused on with her remarks yesterday. Because citizens don’t fully appreciate the vulnerabilities, people are failing to take the appropriate precautions to manage or reduce their risk.

Astoundingly, the survey found that 65 percent of respondents believe they have never used cloud computing services, even though they actually use cloud services like Web-based e-mail. Fifty-eight percent of respondents would choose peace of mind over greater capabilities and efficiencies in their online lives. These people even said they would give up online shopping or banking if they could ensure the integrity of their personal data. And younger people are more concerned than their elders about their data security.

The statistics presented today indicate that while the public is worried about their online security, to be fully accountable, they also must understand the appropriate actions that protect them. During her webcast, Secretary Napolitano rightly emphasized the need for personal responsibility in cyber security: activating firewalls, ensuring that anti-virus and anti-spyware software is installed, backing up files, and using strong and secure passwords. The public must take an active role in their online health.

More needs to be done to shore up consumer confidence online. With the government taking the lead, private enterprise is challenged to inspire public confidence when it comes to protecting information. This means providing reliable and understandable security measures that work. Everyone from banks to merchants to healthcare providers and the IRS must truly ensure that data is secure.

Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) conducted the research in conjunction with the Chertoff Group. The survey, conducted in August 2009, included 1,000 interviews with members of the U.S. general population.