Gen Z is Bad at Cybersecurity Gen Z is Bad at Cybersecurity

Gen Z is Bad at Cybersecurity

by Lindsey Canny
Lindsey Canny Lindsey Canny Edtech Thought Leader
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The older generations have gotten a bad rap for falling for internet scams, malicious links, and computer-clogging adware, but there is a bigger threat to cybersecurity flying under the radar: Gen Z.

In a survey by the National Cybersecurity Alliance, 34% of Gen Z report being victims of phishing scams, while only 12% of Baby Boomers admit to being phished. If we do the math, that’s nearly three times the amount of Zs getting scammed than Boomers.

Talk about a generation gap.


Digital natives

Gen Z, or kids and young adults aged 11–26, are considered the first generation that are digital natives. They were born and raised on the internet and have known no other world. But native internet skills are a lot like speaking a native language: most users are vaguely familiar with the formal rules, and look like naturals by chalking it all up to “just knowing how.”

The problem is that Gen Z seems so adept at maneuvering the digital world that everyone assumes they've got cybersecurity skills in the bag. It's convenient to think they were born with a natural ability for navigating the internet safely, but that assumption has left a gap in actually teaching them how to stay safe online. And that gap makes them (and us) more vulnerable than we realize.


The social media scam machine

Don’t get it wrong: these kids aren’t falling for desperate-sounding emails from deposed foreign princes who suddenly need $10,000. But what if “Xbox” says their account will be deactivated unless they reenter their payment info, or “Amazon” says that they could win a $500 gift card just by entering their info into a totally legit, not-a-scam-at-all drawing? Not only do those deals sound enticing, but both are supposed to be reliable companies.

While email phishing is still a working strategy, scammers know where else they can net some of that Gen Z cash: TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Some of the most common scams young users fall for are storefront scams, where they will attempt to purchase items off of social sites and profiles. These scammers have a knack for mimicking the sleek profiles of genuine brands, luring in youngsters with hot deals. For a generation raised in a digital realm, clicking links and providing personal information is second nature. That’s the crux of the issue — this eagerness to click, buy, and share personal data without much caution. In fact, 50 percent of Gen Z and Millennials say they trust online services to protect their data (yikes!) For school districts, whose teacher and student base include these populations, this statistic should raise major red flags.


Knowledge is power

As Taylor Swift so wisely pointed out, “When you are young they assume you know nothing,” but in this case, we assume Gen Z knows more than they actually do about cybersecurity. Unfortunately, step one is to reel back that benefit of the doubt and build a curriculum and culture of comprehensive cybersecurity.

This education should cover a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from understanding online threats to safeguarding personal information, grasping the nuances of phishing attempts, spotting security red flags, and recognizing the importance of password protection.

Secondly, Gen Z needs to build those critical analysis skills far enough to be guardians of their own information. Cybersecurity education should instill the importance of privacy settings, cautious social media sharing, and recognizing the value of personal data through relentless digital citizenship, and doing it all of their own volition.


A problem for every generation

So Boomers, please accept our apologies for taking the brunt of the blame, but don’t get too complacent: there’s still that pesky 12 percent that are letting scams slip through. That’s certainly enough to wreak devastation on a district’s data, and to clean out more than enough 401ks. Hackers and scam artists target people of all ages, meaning that cybersecurity diligence is everyone’s responsibility. And it starts with acknowledging our own vulnerabilities and committing to continuous education and vigilance.

Just watch out for those deposed foreign princes.


Lindsey Canny Lindsey Canny Edtech Thought Leader
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