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Familiarity breeds cyber-complacency

Survey finds millennials most at risk of cyber attacks

They call us 'digital natives' - the generation that has never experienced a world without the Internet.

We're at ease with navigating the web, so at ease that we're often tasked with introducing our tech skills and digital knowhow into the workplace.

Yet, when it comes to protecting ourselves online, we millennials are surprisingly the least competent and prepared.

Poor password management, lack of security software protection and careless surfing put our group at risk of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

We surveyed 415 Internet users in Singapore last year and found that a majority of those aged 18 to 35 do not believe they would ever fall prey to cybercrime.

These are some of our findings as part of our project to encourage young working adults and students to better protect themselves online.

What has contributed to this phenomenon of cyber complacency among the young?

It is precisely because we have grown up with the Internet that we are so comfortable with it.

Singaporeans are used to living in a relatively safe environment, so we inadvertently conflate our physical security with cyber security. Singaporeans are used to living in a relatively safe environment, so we inadvertently conflate our physical security with cyber security.

Accustomed to speedy and hassle-free surfing, cybersecurity is viewed as an encumbrance. For example, most millennials would not enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for extra login security unless it is mandatory, such as for banking transactions.

Findings elsewhere around the world echo this, with the US National Cyber Security Alliance reporting that a whopping 72 per cent of millennials connect to unsecured public WiFi, which is convenient but dangerous.

In Singapore, six in 10 people aged 15 years and above connect to open, non-password protected Wi-Fi networks in public places, according to survey findings released by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) this week.

Perhaps our complacency can be attributed to the peace and stability we enjoy.

"Singaporeans are used to living in a relatively safe environment, so we inadvertently conflate our physical security with cyber security", said Mr David Koh, chief executive of Singapore's Cyber Security Agency, last year.

Also, don't discount the "it won't happen to me" perception. Many of the peers we surveyed believe they are not "interesting" or "rich" enough to be targeted by cyber criminals.

Another recurring sentiment we found was that most millennials feel confident in their online protection. In fact, some expressed that cybersecurity education should be for their parents' or grandparents' generations, and not "wasted" on us.

However, when it comes to the actual adoption of protective measures, we have the worst scorecards.

Almost a quarter of millennials we surveyed habitually reuse their passwords across multiple online accounts.

And more than 70 per cent agreed that when visiting a website, it is the site's responsibility to ensure online security. Only 57.4 per cent of Generation X felt the same way.

Furthermore, a majority of millennials choose to leave their devices unprotected - by not using antivirus software.

These findings all demonstrate that there is a gap between millennials' digital knowledge and savviness, and their willingness to adopt safe cyber practices as part of their lifestyle.

CONVINCING MILLENNIALS

So how can we best convince millennials of the importance of online security?

A key insight found is that loss-framed messages tend to be resonate more effectively among millennials: Don't tell us what we gain with cybersecurity; tell us what we could lose without it.

Highlighting potential monetary losses from cybercrime can be a powerful motivator. Fear of losing digital files is also helpful in galvanising millennials into action.

Simultaneously, it is crucial to equip millennials with the information we need to best protect ourselves online.

Providing simple tips on how to improve cyber hygiene is important in ensuring that we actually do it.

This is why we have launched a campaign, Life On(the)Line, to reach out to millennials in the workforce and on campuses, alongside partners the Cyber Security Awareness Alliance and Edgis, an information security special interest group.

This weekend, we will be launching an interactive installation where the public is invited to learn at first hand how they can improve their personal cyber hygiene.

Life On(the)Line: An Interactive Installation will be held at Jurong Regional Library today and Sunday, in NTU on Monday and Cathay Cineleisure Orchard on Tuesday.

The writers are final-year Nanyang Technological University students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. Find out more at www.lifeonthelinesg.com.

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