Not a One-Size-Fits-All: How Generations Embrace Cybersecurity
Is a worm necessary for phishing? Does “password hygiene” refer to washing your hands before entering a password?
If we caught you off guard with these questions, then it may be time to review your cybersecurity handbook. Being unaware of these terms isn’t a cybercrime in itself, but it might make you a victim of one.
Every person is unique, and when it comes to online safety, our education and experience will vary. One of the ways to look at this problem is from a generational perspective. What are the differences in how each generation perceives and practices cybersecurity? And what are the reasons behind them?
Let’s get some answers.
Generation cohorts explained
If someone asks you to name different generations, chances are, you’ll mention these four: X, Y, Z, or boomer. Here’s how they differ in their approach towards digital security.
Native deniZens of the web
Let us begin with the youngest generation - the Zs.
Born between 1997 and 2012, they were thrown into the internet waters at a young age and quickly learned to navigate them, becoming the first truly digital generation. Early adopters of modern technologies, communication formats, and applications, these guys are hungry for new experiences. Smartphones are their weapon of choice, and the new hyperconnected world is a friendly and familiar place for them.
This might explain the false sense of security Gen Zs often succumb to. Research shows 34% of Generation Z employees don’t understand or follow their company’s cybersecurity policies, up to 30% haven’t received any cybersecurity education, and a staggering 78% are in the habit of reusing their passwords.
In the search for a more human, personalized experience, 44% of Gen Zs are willing to share their personal information online, which could make them vulnerable to cyberattacks.
But cybersecurity awareness is growing among the young, and the digital kids are willing to learn. For instance, online cyber skills courses in the UK are seeing record numbers of new subscribers among teens aged 14-17.
The millennial tribe
The Ys (also millennials or Gen Me) birth years fall in the 1981-96 range.
Even though some millennials are now on the brink of 40, they are still the youth of the internet. Many of them witnessed its creation and first steps, and also fell victim to the first viruses, such as the original Elk Cloner. Seeing that poem pop up must have been traumatizing, but it also made the Ys very aware of how the internet wasn’t completely safe.
The evolution of cybercrime followed, with attackers moving from benign pranks (which could still incur millions in losses) to malignant vulnerability exploits and massive breaches of personal information. These new threats affected corporations and private individuals, often ruining careers and lives - and could be a clue to understanding why some millennials are not interested in cybersecurity.
Being hacked doesn’t happen to them. It happens to other people. Or so they think.
This is also why they’re so faithful to their passwords, holding on to them for up to ten different accounts - like a safety blanket.
However, the overwhelming majority developed a healthy balance between knowing the risks and not worrying too much. 80% of millennials believe their personal data will be kept secure by the companies they do business with. Based on cybersecurity statistics, up to 70% of the Y generation are up-to-date on security solutions, and about 40% use two-factor authentication, making them the undisputed champions among the four groups.
It seems an average millennial has a pretty good grasp of cybersecurity practices, trusts online institutions - while realizing the unpickable lock doesn’t exist.
The X guys (born 1965-1980) have been here for some time. The internet is just one of the many new things to come galloping into their lives. So they may be more cautious about rushing headlong into it.
Mostly well-educated and often characterized as slightly skeptical of new experiences, this generation has adopted a more systematic approach to cybersecurity issues. According to research by ObserveIT, a whopping 90% of Gen X employees follow all cybersecurity procedures in the workplace. They are also the age group most concerned with protecting their personal online data.
The Xs tame their fears by creating more complex passwords and often locking their social media accounts. Overall, Generation X is made up of adults with a high level of digital literacy, who have families and financial obligations, so won’t take unnecessary risks. Especially on the internet, which - however omnipresent - remains a wee bit foreign to this demographic.
This generation of babies from 1946-1964 is far from giving up on the online world. In fact, they are catching up quickly - getting more smartphone-friendly every year, increasing their social media presence, and learning about streaming services.
Boomers used to register social media accounts only to follow the lives of their kids and grandkids, but they are becoming more interested in the content and engaging in more frequent communication. The internet is not a way of life, but merely a tool for them, so they tread lightly, avoiding most of the traps - at least the ones they can identify. And boomers are constantly getting better at it: 65% say they’ve never been hacked.
Of the four age groups, baby boomers are the most diligent and responsible in their digital lives, and they are also more reliant on external knowledge and assistance.
But it’s not all fun and games for these folks either. With more average wealth accrued than the younger generations and fewer computer skills, boomers become desirable targets for cybercriminals. Well aware of their victims’ weak points, scammers often play the emotion card - and receive honest donations for a dishonest cause.
Baby boomers may follow all security protocols and recommendations, but there is still a major vulnerability in their firewall left open.
Cybersecurity patterns of different generations
Different generations approach cybersecurity in their own ways, and we can identify specific patterns:
- Gen Zs, the digital kids, are inseparable from the internet and trust it almost unconditionally. They know the dangers but may lack diligence.
- Millennials, also natives of the digital world, are more disciplined when it comes to online security. They are confident in their skills - and a bit relaxed.
- Gen Xs are concerned about online security and likely to adhere to recommendations, leaving one less problem for them to solve. They have enough on their plate already.
- Baby boomers may have less of an online presence, but they’re moving forward quickly. With proper training and assistance in security measures, they may be the safest bunch.
* * *
So, do we have a clear winner? Not exactly.
Paradoxically, the younger age groups may not be as secure from cyberattacks as we would expect. The older generations, on the contrary, aren’t as exposed to online threats as we initially assumed.
In any case, all generations would benefit from training programs and cybersecurity protocols tailored to their specific backgrounds and needs.
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