Survey Finds Local Agencies Hit Hard by Viruses; Not Worried About Hacking

An overwhelming majority of local, county and state agencies have been the victims of computer viruses, but few are worried about being hacked, according to a recent survey by the Emergency Response and Research Institute, a public safety consulting group.

The ERRI report found that nearly 83 percent of 175 agencies that participated in the survey had dealt with a computer virus, indicating a possible lack of effective anti-virus software in use or unsafe computing practices by respondents.

Although 63 percent of the respondents called computer "hacking/cracking" a problem, about one-third did not view the issue as a concern at all.

"This is the first survey that we know of its kind that contacted, city, county and state agencies on this issue," said Clark L. Staten, executive director of ERRI. "We would like to take it more in-depth and broaden it to be [more] statistically significant.... It's a problem that is not receiving recognition."

ERRI analysts, who received the completed surveys during May and June, also noted that more than 94 percent of those surveyed used a World Wide Web site to communicate with the public. Far fewer (59 percent) reported using e-mail to respond to public comments or complaints.

Staten would not name specific locations that participated because they had been promised anonymity, but he said most of the respondents were emergency agencies from municipalities across the United States, including fire departments, university security departments, state emergency management agencies and emergency medical services departments. Six agencies from Canada also responded, he said.

ERRI, based in Chicago, was founded to provide solutions to the emergency response and government community. More information is available at www.emergency.com.

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