Government IT systems threatened by millennial digital warriors

November 2016

It’s a popular misconception that baby boomers aged 52 to 70 in 2016 are generally less tech savvy and more naïve online than their younger millennial counterparts aged 19 to 35. However, a recent study published in the United States says that it’s the millennials or ‘digital warriors that could be a massive risk to government IT systems – a threat as large as that posed by cyber criminals around the world.

millennial-digital-warriors-blog-imageMore and more millennials are starting to work in the public sector using the government’s IT systems. This could be a dangerous trend, as they import their poor technology preferences and bad habits into the workplace.

The report, published by cybersecurity developer Forcepoint and carried out earlier this year is entitled, ‘Millennial Rising: ‘Digital warriors’ introduce risk to federal systems’. It lists some alarming statistics:

Don’t mix business with pleasure

  • Almost two-thirds of the survey participants use their personal devices for both their personal lives and work;
  • 32% admit to accessing social media at work;
  • 34% use personal devices to access work systems after hours and 21% download files to personal devices;
  • 32% download third party apps for productivity while 20% do not notify IT.

Password or failword?

  • 70% say they understand and use strong passwords, but 42% actually use the same password for multiple systems and apps;
  • Only 33% of millennials use secure passwords for all their accounts, compared to 53% of baby boomers;
  • 35% of millennials who have experienced a breach share their password with others.

Low security

  • 50% have experienced a breach or infection in just the past two years;
  • 20% admit to using public Wi-Fi to check banking info or pay online bills;
  • 54% are more concerned with internet speed over security;
  • 45% report that they’ve received no security training at all;
  • An alarming 16% believe it’s solely the IT department’s responsibility to protect them from security threats – not their own!

In the United States, these millennials already make up around 25 percent of the federal workforce. In just ten years’ time, they are expected to represent nearly 75 percent, and these figures could be roughly similar in the UK. As the report summarised, the baby boomer generation is far more cautious online, while the younger millennials are much more likely to throw caution to the wind in exchange for digital expediency.

So, what can be done about this impending threat to cyber security in government environments? Thankfully, Nexor has already done something about it.

Back in 2013, I was part of a research project which looked at this issue from a defence industry standpoint. It was a UKCeB study entitled, ‘Digital Natives: Secure Collaboration in Team Defence 2020.’ The aim was to look at what secure collaborative working will look like in the year 2020.

We already have some of the answers.

The research project found that aggressive firewalls, web filtering and security policies often hamper the Digital Natives. The technology that they use every day at home that allows them to be productive is not always allowed in the office – meaning that they either can’t meet deadlines, or must resort to Shadow IT simply to work effectively.

We must invest in new ways to allow these more efficient working practices to operate securely, instead of enforcing restrictive security policies which result in Digital Natives being able to work more quickly and effectively at home, than they can in the workplace.

You can find out more in this research poster displayed at the Information Assurance Advisory Council (IAAC) annual conference.


Author Bio – Colin Powers

Colin Powers is a Technical Consultant at Nexor, Red Hat Certified Engineer (120-196-084) and 3-time Cyber Security Challenge finalist.


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