Professor offers concrete tips for those who may have been lax with their devices

SAINT LEO, FL – A new national survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( reveals more than half of Americans think the U.S. government is not doing enough to protect American citizens from cyber hacks specifically by the Russian government. These opinions were gathered shortly before new revelations that the U.S. intelligence community concluded that hacking conducted before the presidential election into Democratic and possibly Republican campaign computer accounts and various other email accounts was done to tilt the election toward Donald J. Trump.

The intelligence agencies had already suspected the Russians of the hacking before now. That was publicly known—the new part is that intelligence officials this month ascribed a motive of election meddling to the government of Vladimir Putin. After accounts were hacked, some previously confidential Democratic-related content was made public by WikiLeaks, the online publisher of secret information.

Since Russia and WikiLeaks emerged in the news about the breaches months ago, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute added pertinent questions on the digital intrigue to the cybersecurity portion of its nonpartisan 2016 survey, conducted online November 27 through November 30. The survey of 1,001 adults mostly focuses on Americans’ own personal computer safety habits—which could be improved.

The Russian government and WikiLeaks were covered in a section in which respondents were asked to read a statement and indicate whether they agreed, disagreed, or were unsure.

The statements and results were as follows:


Statement Agreed Disagreed Unsure
The U.S. government is doing enough to protect U.S. citizens from hacks by groups like WikiLeaks 13.1% 57.7% 29.2%
The U.S. government is doing enough to protect U.S. citizens from hacks by the Russian government 12.9% 52.8% 34.3%


In the same section, respondents were also presented with a statement on security;

Statement Agreed Disagreed Unsure
I support greater government oversight, regulation, and policing of the internet if it means greater personal security 43.7% 33.7% 22.5%


“People are concerned about cybersecurity in general, and politics is not immune,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, and a political scientist at the university. “It’s only a matter of time before this issue becomes as partisan as any other issue in our discourse.”


Individual actions

While governmental-level action may not come swiftly, the survey also revealed some risky habits on the part of individuals that can be changed right away. And 65 percent indicated that their concern for the security of their personal data during the holiday season is as high or higher than last year. Here are some areas to watch:

  • Only 44.2 percent said they change their passwords as often as they should.
  • Almost one-third, 31.8 percent, said they have posted on social media personal information such as employment details, contact information, and birthdates.
  • Nearly one in five, 19.6 percent, said they have been a victim of online theft of personal information like data or even photos.
  • Related to theft concerns, 17.8 percent said they regret posts such as vacation plans, their whereabouts, photos, or contact information on social media.

Dr. Marwan Omar, assistant professor of computer science and information systems at Saint Leo University, had several points of advice for handling one’s personal accounts. Regarding passwords, he said, even people who change their passwords as frequently as advised may be making a common error that puts them at risk of theft: re-using previous passwords. “This means that a password that you had six months ago could be the same password you have now,” Omar said. “This, in turn, gives cyber criminals an advantage and makes it easier for them to crack or guess your password. Hackers and criminals tend to gather intelligence in bits and pieces and they take their sweet time before committing digital crimes.”

Omar suggests that people use passphrases instead of common dictionary words—without spaces—as passwords. The distinction is that passphrases will contain spaces and perhaps symbols, and do not have to be grammatically correct, nor proper sentences. Because of these characteristics, passphrases are harder to guess, and so harder for criminals to crack.

Marwan also stressed that people should not conduct online shopping, online banking, or online bill pay on a computer that belongs to someone else. “Never conduct this type of confidential web browsing in common areas such as local coffee shops, airports, or local restaurants because these are favorite targets for criminals since they reply on insecure public Wi-Fi networks,” he added.

As for people who have posted information on social media in the past, he warned against complacency. Continue to monitor accounts, he said, because of the long pause criminals may take before using compromised data.

And he had other counsel. “What I like to highlight here is the fact that many users do not know or are not aware of other security strategies and measures that are equally important. For example, encrypting your digital life is equally important—if not more important—because if your digital assets ever fall in the wrong hands because your encrypted laptop is lost or stolen, it’s almost of no value to thieves or cyber criminals because encrypted data will look like gibberish to them.”

Much more information is available in the cybersecurity chapter of the complete poll report at

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text). Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The national poll of 1,001 adults was conducted from November 27 through November 30, 2016 and has a plus or minus 3.0 percent margin of error. A sample of 501 adults in Florida were also surveyed from November 27 through November 30, 2016. The findings from the Florida survey have a plus or minus 4.5 percent margin of error.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever our students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. We welcome people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourage learners of all generations. We are committed to providing educational opportunities to our nation’s armed forces, our veterans, and their families. We are regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and we guide all our students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

We remain the faithful stewards of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where our founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 15,000 students, we have expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintain a physical presence in seven states. We provide highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 82,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.