Over-30s tend to do better at cyber security than younger colleagues
Brits over the age of 30 tend to be more likely to adopt best practice when it comes to cybersecurity than their younger colleagues, even though the under-30s tend to be more anxious about security matters, according to a study conducted by NTT’s cyber unit.
The study, which also looked into the attitudes of people in multiple other countries, was conducted as part of NTT’s Risk: Value report 2019 and scored across 17 criteria. In the UK, over-30s scored higher in terms of security best practice than the under-30s. When compared with people in the other countries studied, which included Brazil, France, Hong Kong and the US, people in the UK tended to score higher regardless of age.
The study cannot be read as an indictment of the habits of millennials (those born between approximately 1980 and 1995) because the oldest millennials are now approaching the age of 40. However, its findings do clearly show that just because people have grown up as digital natives and are aware of the risks of life online, it does not necessarily mean they are paragons of virtue when it comes to security.
Indeed, suggested NTT, employees who have spent longer in the workplace gaining knowledge and skills – what it termed “digital DNA” – have a clear advantage over their younger colleagues.
“It’s clear from our research that a multigenerational workforce leads to very different attitudes to cybersecurity. This is a challenge when organisations need to engage across all age groups, from the oldest employee to the youngest,” said NTT Security’s vice-president of consulting for the UK and Ireland, Azeem Aleem.
“With technology constantly evolving and workers wanting to bring in and use their own devices, apps and tools, business leaders must ensure that security is an enabler and not a barrier to a productive workplace.
“Our advice for managing security within a multigenerational workforce is to set expectations with young people and make security awareness training mandatory. Then execute this training to test your defences, with all company employees involved in simulation exercises,” said Aleem.
“Finally, teamwork is key. The corporate security team is not one person, but the whole company, so cultural change is important to get right.”
The research revealed that under-30s expected to be more productive, flexible and agile at work using their own tools and devices, but half thought that responsibility for security rested solely on the shoulders of the IT department – 6% higher than older age groups.
One anonymised interviewee, a 28-year old working in the finance sector, commented: “I don’t think I care anymore. There is so much stuff out there now, what with Cambridge Analytica. It is all out there, I accept that at some point someone might try to defraud me and impersonate me and I will deal with it when it happens, I suppose.”
The report seemed to show younger workers were more ready to take risks – 52% said they’d consider paying a ransomware demand, compared with 26% of over-30s. But 58% believed their employers did not have the right in-house skills or resources to cope with the number of security threats, compared with just 26% of older adults.
Younger people also tended to dramatically underestimate the amount of time it would take to recover from a cybersecurity breach and were less likely than their older colleagues to believe cyber should be a regular item on the boardroom agenda.
However, younger people did consider the internet of things (IoT) as a greater security risk than the over-30s.
Adam Joinson, professor of information systems at the University of Bath – who specialises in the intersection of IT and human behaviour – said that if the report made anything clear, it was that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to security.
“The insights from the NTT study demonstrate that treating all employees as posing the same risk, or having the same skills, is problematic for organisations. We do need to be careful not to assume that the under-30s simply don’t care so much about cybersecurity. While this may be true in some cases, in others it is more likely that existing security policies and practices don’t meet their expectations about ‘stuff just working’,” he said.
“If we want to harness the fantastic creativity and energy of younger workers, we need to think about security as something that enables their work, not something that blocks them from achieving their tasks. This is likely to mean security practitioners having to fundamentally rethink the way security policies operate and find ways to improve the fit between security and the tasks employees are required to undertake as part of their core work,” added Joinson.
To this end, NTT has produced a checklist of six best practice tips to reinforce security in a multigenerational workforce. These are to:
- Make security culture inclusive of all age groups and supported by age-diverse “champions”.
- Listen to the views of younger employees on cyber.
- Enable agile and flexible workplaces that help younger people buy into the desired security culture.
- Make security leaders approachable to everyone in the business.
- Support learning programmes, mentoring and even external support in areas where skills shortages are most acute.
- Educate, possibly even through tactics such as gamification.
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