Millennials and Cybersecurity

An article published last month stated that millennials are less worried about cybersecurity than older generations. Citing a study conducted by FirstData, the author writes that millennials are more likely to reuse passwords over several accounts and share more via social media, compared to older generations (namely Gen Xers and Baby Boomers). He concludes that older generations tend to worry more about cybersecurity than their younger counterparts, inferring that millennials are more careless when it comes to their personal information.

I feel, however, that this article fails to look at the big picture and omits other interesting findings from that same study. Are millennials really less worried about cybersecurity or is it a matter of perception?

It’s important to understand the world in which millennials have grown up. The advent of home computing in the 1980s made computing technology easily accessible and, by the 1990s, personal computers were an essential part of nearly every household. Millennials’ education quickly became intertwined with these advances and, even more so, with widespread usage of the Internet by the late 1990s. In 1999, the US Department of Labor published an article that looked at the increase in computer ownership across the US and included the chart below, which depicts the difference in computer ownership by education level for 1990 and 1997.

Percent of households owning computer by education level of the reference person


How does this relate to cybersecurity?

Early exposure to computers and, subsequently, the Internet, has likely left millennials with a level of comfort around technology that may diminish some worries associated with cyberspace. More importantly, millennials grew up alongside the Internet meaning that they witnessed the early days of cybercrime, as well. Whether inundating their screen with endless pop-ups or restricting access to files, most millennials have come face-to-face with malware that took over their computer in some form.

Perhaps, millennials worry less about cybersecurity because it’s a familiar landscape; they know what to expect.

Aside from their comfort level with technology and the Internet, millennials are known for being significantly less trusting than earlier generations – sometimes even being referred to as The Skeptical Generation Y. In an information-charged culture, this skepticism transcends into their online behavior. For instance, email is the most lucrative way in which hackers have been able to infiltrate networks – 91% of cyberattacks start with an email. The FirstData study found that the vast majority of millennials would never download an attachment (81%) or click on a link (79%) within an email from an unknown sender. In other words, millennials, almost inherently, take the additional precautions around email security that cybersecurity professionals are constantly stressing.

Interestingly, the same study also found that 70% of millennials enable additional layers of security, such as two-factor authentication for account logins. While password reuse is not ideal, extra security layers provide yet another barrier between a user and a cyberattack.

Perhaps, millennials worry less about cybersecurity because they take additional precautions when it comes to their online activity.

Millennials social media


Social media is never far when discussing millennials and cybersecurity. After all, millennials are believed to thrive in a culture of over-sharing. Most studies, however, fail to address how millennials are selective in what they choose to share and who has access to their posts/profiles.  According to one study, 41% of millennials have very strict privacy settings implemented on their social media accounts and 40% said that they limit certain information. Millennials (adults between the ages of 20- and 36-years old) understand the importance of separating their public and private lives; they’ve seen the repercussions first hand.

Personally, I tend to be cautious when it comes to relaying any information online, including via social media. I find myself running through a series of questions prior to posting something: what am I sharing, who is going to see it, and how can it be interpreted. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but most millennials go through the same thought process subconsciously. The reality is that, even though we share part of our lives online, we still value our privacy.

Perhaps, millennials worry less about cybersecurity because they recognize the implications of sharing photos and information online.

Yes, millennials worry less about cybersecurity, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to being careless about it. Rather, millennials almost instinctively take the precautions that cybersecurity professionals stress when it comes to educating employees about cybersecurity. There will always be outliers in every generation, but they are the exceptions and, in my opinion, don’t demonstrate the bulk of millennials’ online behavior.