Last 6 months saw 7% leap in personal data thefts

Large-scale security breaches have people on edge about the security of their personal information, and for good reason. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 18 per cent of online adults have had important personal data poached.

That includes including Social Security number, credit card, or bank account information, and is up from 11 per cent just six months earlier.

Meanwhile, 21 per cent of online adults claim to have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over without permission. The same volume reported this trouble in a July 2013 survey.

"Last week's discovery of the Heartbleed security flaw is the latest in a long string of bad news about vulnerabilities of digital data," Pew senior researcher Mary Madden wrote in a blog post.

The Heartbleed OpenSSL weakness has flown under the radar for two years, affecting almost 70 per cent of active websites, and allowing scammers to steal personal information undetected.

Meanwhile, there was Target's holiday-shopping-season credit card breach and the January theft of 1.1 million credit and debit cards from Neiman Marcus, which have left some consumers weary.

"The consequences of these flaws and breaches may add insult to injury for those who have already experienced some kind of personal information theft," Madden said.

The number of people affected is on the rise: In 2013, 7 per cent of adults ages 18 to 29 knew their personal data was stolen.

This year, Pew counted as many as 15 per cent among the same age group. People 50 to 64 years old also became significantly more likely to report data theft, jumping from 11 per cent to 20 per cent in six months.

Despite tech companies' efforts to secure their users, many are still worried about the amount of personal information available online. In fact, 50 per cent of people surveyed in January reported concerns—up from 33 per cent in 2009.