The millennials are among those groups of people who are most adversely impacted by cybercrime. Data seems to point to poor awareness of basic security habits as the main reason millennials have been hit so hard. To mention just a few of their poor security habits, members of this generation tend to be promiscuous with credentials, as well as visiting unsecure websites and performing transactions over public and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Lack of familiarity with standard security measures and obsession with the internet could be the reasons millennials tend to be so reckless with their browsing habits. It seems that the sudden improvement in internet browsing experience and surge in online transactions and mobile apps have also partly contributed to the reckless behavior. Improved awareness is probably the only solution to the problem. With cyberattacks on the rise in terms of both volume and variety, millennials could be sitting ducks. (Learn about maintaining your online privacy with 5 Ways to Go Undetected Online.)
Millennials Among the Top Victims
Various studies have established that millennials have been among the top victims of cybercrimes and that, to a large extent, can be attributed to their reckless online activities. Consider the following statistics as evidence:
- A survey of fraud victims by Get Safe Online, a public-private not-for-profit initiative that educates U.K. consumers and businesses on cyberthreats, found that millennials are more likely to fall victim to online scams than those 55 or older.
- Get Safe Online also found that 10 percent of millennials fell victim to phishing and other cyberscams in 2016. Those millennials lost £612 ($856) on average.
- Media Smarts, a public-private partnership which promotes digital and media literacy, surveyed people to find that more than one-third of millennials did not believe that schools and colleges had been providing adequate training in cybersecurity best practices.
- Millennials tend to use weak or commonly used passwords that can be easily guessed. As a result, the systems or accounts can be easily breached. Another dangerous practice followed by millennials is sharing of passwords.
Why Are Millennials so Vulnerable?
The millennials are part of a unique generation that straddles two different eras in terms of access to technology. When they were born, the internet was probably at a nascent stage, accessible to only a few. By the time they attained adulthood, or were maybe in their mid-30s, access to the internet was considered a necessity. This can probably explain, to an extent, the cavalier attitude of millennials towards online browsing. (See how millennials compare with other generations technologically in Do Millennials Understand Online Privacy?)
When millennials were first exposed to the internet, it was a unique, incomparable and joyful experience. However, cybercrimes were relatively unknown and safety techniques were straightforward. The first decade or so was characterized by slow speeds. Internet browsing had been limited to desktops and, in limited cases, laptops. Then things changed – the smartphone and mobile apps arrived, and internet speeds skyrocketed. Online transactions and e-commerce became an almost universal way of life. The internet browsing experience improved. Millennials took to the changes like a kid in a candy store – overwhelmed, overjoyed and with careless abandon. They had never seen anything like this. All they could see was the good things, but not the potential dangers that lurked behind those unsecured websites and transactions. Such people became easy prey for the scammers and malware.
Do Cybercriminals Identify Millennials as Soft Targets?
There are different kinds of cybercriminals in terms of goals, skills and modus operandi. Not every cybercriminal is after the money of the millennials specifically. At the same time, however, many are. Online transactions, as already stated, have become nearly a universal way of life. They offer unprecedented convenience and rewards. In fact, in many countries, institutional encouragement is provided to use digital transactions – for example, in India the government rewards card transactions at gas stations with cash back.
However, online transactions can also be fraught with risks, depending on how you approach it. Considering how cybercrime has evolved, it requires the gatekeepers of online transactions to be extremely careful of protecting the confidentiality and privacy of data. We are no strangers to reports of huge data or system breaches in large and reputable organizations. It is incredible that even in such an environment, millennials tend to approach online transactions with a lax and cavalier attitude. So, no wonder that they are often seen as sitting ducks for cybercriminals. Millennials tend to be extremely vulnerable because of the following reasons (and more):
- Millennials are promiscuous with their credentials. Often, they tend to share their online transaction credentials with family and friends through vulnerable mediums which can be easily breached.
- Millennials tend to perform many online transactions over public and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. As a result, private information and credentials become extremely vulnerable and may pass into the wrong hands.
- Millennials have a casual attitude toward technological risks and vulnerabilities. They tend to ignore or gloss over serious mistakes such as password promiscuity, as well as visiting unsecured and malicious sites. They seem to live in denial that they might be subject to attacks because of their habits.
- Most millennials would expose themselves to risky activities online. For example, many would install an unverified third-party app, answer questions in an anonymous survey or provide access to files or documents while online.
It is indeed interesting that the millennials would behave the way they do, when it comes to online transactions. It seems that there are two ways they can make themselves more secure against cybercrimes. One, over time, they learn from their mistakes and become smarter about online security. Also, they will have the examples of their succeeding generations, who are probably savvier as far as online transactions are concerned. Two, there needs to be a greater emphasis on awareness toward secure online transactions. The initiatives need to come from different levels: government, schools and other educational institutions. However, improvement in online behavior is going to take a long time because it is basically a cultural and mindset issue. Until then, millennials represent an easy target for cybercriminals because on a retail basis, it offers the lure of easy money for the cybercriminals.