Generations Don't See Eye-to-Eye When It Comes to Security

Sue Marquette Poremba

The common wisdom is that knowledge is power. That’s true, but what point is having knowledge if you don’t use it?

Check Point Software Technologies just released the results of a new ZoneAlarm report revealing differences in the use of computer security between Gen Y and Baby Boomers. The primary finding in "The Generation Gap in Computer Security" is that Gen Y (today’s twenty-somethings) are confident in their security knowledge, much moreso than Baby Boomers, but 50 percent of Gen Y respondents have had security issues in the past two years compared to less than half of Baby Boomers.

Hence what is knowledge if you don’t use it?

This is a big deal as the Gen Y generation begins their careers. The corporate world already struggles with workplace security. Here you have a group of new workers who supposedly "get it" when it comes to security but aren’t doing a whole lot with it.

According to a release announcing the report’s findings, 78 percent of Gen Y respondents do not follow security best practices while cyber criminals are launching new and more sophisticated attacks on consumers every day. In comparison, Baby Boomers are more concerned about security and privacy and twice more likely to protect their computers with additional security software.

Honestly, I’m not surprised by the findings. These kids could also be known as the Facebook Generation. They had email accounts in elementary school and don’t think twice about sharing every moment of their lives on social media. Their cellphones are glued to their hands and can text at the speed of light. Privacy and security have different meanings for young people than they do for Baby Boomers.

Tomer Teller, security evangelist and researcher at Check Point Software Technologies, said in a release:

Gen Y tends to prioritize entertainment and community over security, perhaps due to overconfidence in their security knowledge. For example, they’re more concerned about gaming or other social activities than their online security. They also have less sophisticated security software, and hence, have reported more security problems than other groups, such as Baby Boomers.

I agree with him — up to a point. I think young adults are less sophisticated about security issues because as these kids were growing up, parents were the ones who were in charge of keeping the computer and the network safe. I have to wonder how many parents really explained the need for computer security or anything about the security software. It all goes back to education, doesn’t it?

But again, I can see a sense of cockiness of young adults coming into the workplace, knowing about computers, knowing the basic tenets of security, but having that typical youthful attitude that “I am invincible; nothing bad will happen to me.”

I think a vital takeaway from the report was this statement:

Both Gen Y and Baby Boomers were most concerned about the potential security threat from infected websites. However, there were distinct differences in the types of security attacks that caused concern among the different age groups. Baby Boomers were much more concerned about attacks coming through email, (35% vs. 18%) whereas Gen Y indicated greater concern (24% vs. 9%) about attacks originating from social networks or P2P file-sharing networks.

Security policy has to be consistent throughout an organization, but communicating policy and security education should be targeted better to the audience. Gen Y has a different attitude about email use in general (as in, most of them don’t use it unless necessary) than older adults, but they will be the ones using social media in the workspace. The initial conversations and educational materials need to make an impact, and from experience, you can reach a younger person best if you relate to his or her experiences.

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