Are Millennials Really the Biggest Threat to Your Company’s Data Security?

Posted: November 17, 2015 / Author: Dror Liwer
With cybercrime on the rise, more and more companies are on the look out for solutions to prevent security breaches. What many don’t realize is that millennials may be the weak link in the fight against cyber attacks. After all, while millennials or digital natives are tech savvy, their <over?> reliance on mobile devices may be putting companies at risk. With recent estimates suggesting that this demographic will make up at least half of the U.S. workforce by 2020, companies need to find a more sophisticated approach to cybersecurity. The face of the workforce is changing. Digital immigrants who were only exposed to technology as adults, and are inherently suspicious, are being replaced by hyperconnected, social media addicted millennials. For many security experts this is cause for concern. The reality is that while millennials add a lot to the right workplace, their predilection for BYOD (bring your own device) office policies can wreak havoc on even the most secure networks.

Today’s Smartphone Dependent Workforce

Millennials have a different attitude to data than any other generations. They are always connected and take having instant and easy access to information for granted. Many find the standard issue desktop computers on offer in most offices to be restrictive and too slow for their data hungry needs. As a result, millennials end up bringing their own mobile devices into the office. In fact, a survey by TrackVia found that at least 50% of the millennials interviewed preferred to use their own devices. This extends to app usage with a study conducted by Huddle indicating that this group of workers were more prone to storing corporate data in the cloud. The study found that 24% of 25-31 year olds and 31% of 18-24 year olds favored services like Dropbox over enterprise alternatives. What’s even more worrying is that the majority of the 18-24 year olds interviewed in the study stored corporate data on their personal devices with 23% of them storing this data on their smartphones. These cloud based services make business vulnerable as they often lack the enterprise level security needed to keep sensitive data safe. Millennials are a mobile first generation. This has many implications for the workplace, and often means that the line between work and personal life is blurred. A study conducted by MobileIron found that 82% of millennials use their smartphones to complete at least one personal task during the work day. While 64% of these same workers use their smartphones for at least one work-related task after hours. Smartphones have become such an integral part of the average millennial’s lifestyle that many workplaces have had to adapt. In fact, smartphone usage has become so commonplace that one Kaspersky study found that 62% of employees use a personal smartphone for work purposes. What’s particularly terrifying about this is that of those surveyed, 92% were found to store sensitive corporate data on their smartphone and other mobile devices. While 60% admitted to being concerned about mobile security, the Kaspersky study found that few took any steps to prevent data breaches. [Tweet "Only 60% of millennials are concerned about #cyber and mobile #security"]

What This Means for the Modern Workplace

Worryingly, not only are millennials overly reliant on mobile devices but they also tend to be indifferent about mobile security. The Kaspersky study found that most of these smartphone savvy workers rely on their employers to keep them safe, with many not viewing security as their responsibility. Others simply don’t care. The U.S. Mobile Device Security Survey Report which polled just over 750 working professionals found that 27% of those surveyed engaged in unsafe online activity. This is particularly the case in offices with a BYOD policy where one click on the wrong link or opening a malicious email could compromise an organization’s security. Millennials attitude towards corporate data exposes companies to great risk with at least 25% of those surveyed in the aforementioned study having compromised security at some point.

Millennials Aren’t the Only Culprits  

Many are quick to blame millennials for security breaches when employers are just as much at fault. The Kaspersky study found that most businesses are clueless about the risks posed by smartphone usage. At least 32% of those surveyed in the study didn’t see employees using personal mobile devices in the workplace as risky. For most businesses the biggest concern is the loss or theft of an employee’s mobile device. And while potentially damaging, this pales in comparison with the potential risk of using smartphones in the workplace. The Kaspersky study also found that many businesses perceive free security solutions as sufficient to keep mobile devices safe. This certainly is not the case. What many businesses fail to understand is that smartphones can make a company vulnerable to attack. Without the proper precautionary measures, hackers can easily exploit these devices to attack organizations. Now more than ever, companies need to invest in mobile security.

Rethinking Security

The workplace is changing at a rapid pace, and companies that don’t want their security to be compromised need to adapt. One approach is to invest in training and educating millennials and digital immigrants. This would involve ensuring employees have the necessary skills and awareness to keep a company’s data safe.The problem with this is that it could end up isolating millennials who often are not responsive to technology training. Such an approach also places employees on the frontline of a battle they’re ill equipped to fight. Some companies take a more extreme approach and block apps and other websites they find risky. This often proves to be ineffective as it demotivates employees, and can easily be bypassed by more tech savvy users. Companies need to find a way to strike a balance between the innovation millennials demand and productivity while eliminating potential threats. One way to do this would be to embrace the technology and apps millennials expect to use at work. This way employees wouldn’t feel the need to use solutions that aren’t approved by the company. With the help of security solutions like CoroNet, companies could freely implement such a strategy with the peace of mind that they’d be alerted to any threats in real-time.
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