homepage logo

Tech Matters: Why younger people are at higher risk for falling for phishing attacks

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 12, 2021

Photo supplied

Leslie Meredith

We’ve come to believe that older computer users are most susceptible to phishing attacks, but two new reports say that’s not the case. According to a Sailpoint survey, it’s the Gen Zers and millennials who are careless when it comes to online security, largely because they are much more comfortable sharing personal information than their older counterparts and have many more places to share it.

A second study released by Atlas VPN revealed younger people are significantly less likely to report a cyber crime even when it involved a financial loss. Put these two together and it becomes clear that these younger groups have something to learn from their elders.

How about that for a topic around the Thanksgiving table? The findings from each survey reveal the small differences in behavior that can mean the difference between staying safe online and becoming a victim.

Before we dive into the numbers, here’s a refresher on the age ranges of each demographic group:

  • Baby boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, they’re currently between 57-75 years old and account for 71.6 million individuals in the U.S.
  • Gen X: Gen X was born between 1965 and 1979/80 which makes them between 41-56 years old. In the U.S., there are 65.2 million people in this age range
  • Millennials: Also known as Gen Y, these folks were born between 1981 and 1994/6 and are currently between the ages of 25 and 40. They make up about the same number of the U.S. population or 72.1 million people.
  • Gen Z: Gen Z was born between 1997 and 2012, making them between the ages of 9 and 24. There are currently 68 million Gen Zers in the U.S.

The SailPoint survey asked 500 U.S. workers how they respond to a suspicious looking email with a link or an attachment. Forty-six percent of Gen Z respondents said they would open the link or attachment, compared to 29% of millennials, but just 1% of boomers and 4% of Gen Xers would ignore the risk and open it.

Surveyors then asked questions about the participants’ use of their company email address for personal accounts. The survey found that a majority of Gen Z (77%) and millennial (55%) respondents use their company email addresses for their social media logins, compared to just 15% of Gen Xers and 7% of boomers. Almost 30% of all workers surveyed said they use their company email for online shopping.

As a best practice, people should keep their work-related accounts separate from their personal accounts for several reasons. For instance, if you change jobs your email account will be deactivated and it will be tough for you to recover any personal accounts associated with it. Further, using your company email on non-work-related accounts puts your company’s network at risk by creating entry points for cybercriminals who may then gain access to company data and may be able to insert malware.

While you should be practicing safe online habits, your company should also be working to protect its employees and systems. It can automate regular employee safety training as a part of its email system, flag emails that come from outside the company and use a firewall to block suspicious emails and, of course, make sure all systems and software are kept up to date.

In the second survey, which included 2,000 participants from the U.S. and U.K., the focus was on comparing the frequency of reporting a cyber crime. Leading the age groups are boomers who are the most likely to report a cyber crime. Here, 64% of boomers have made such a report, followed by Gen X at 43%, millennials at 32% and only 21% of Gen Zers have reported a cyber crime to authorities. However, 21% of both millennials and Gen Z respondents said they had been a victim of a cyber crime where they lost money or date — they just rarely report it.

Everyone, regardless of age, should report cyber crime immediately. Share the details of the scam not only with authorities, but with your family, friends and co-workers. Do your part to protect others from becoming victims.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)