Report: Millennials Could Put Federal IT at Risk

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Those defined by the survey as born between 1977 and 1994 are more likely than baby boomers to engage in risky behaviors online.

Those born between 1977 and 1994 could soon pose a major threat to federal cybersecurity, a new survey concludes.

Forcepoint, a cybersecurity firm, polled 670 respondents about their online safety habits, including public Wi-Fi use and sharing passwords. Broadly, millennials—defined by the survey as those born between 1977 and 1994—are more likely than baby boomers to engage in risky behaviors online, the survey suggests.

While millennials currently make up about a quarter of federal employees, by 2025 they'll comprise about 75 percent, according to Forcepoint. But survey data suggests certain generational behaviors, such as using personal devices for work and downloading company files on them without notifying IT, could create opportunities for intruders to access federal information.

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About two-thirds of all survey participants said they use personal devices for work; about the same amount used social media at work, the report said. More than a fifth had downloaded work files to their personal devices. About 42 percent said they used the same password for various systems.

Generational differences surfaced in the survey results; for instance, about 33 percent of millennials were using "strong" passwords for all accounts, whereas about 53 percent of baby boomers did.

About 10 percent of millennials don't change their behavior online when using public Wi-Fi networks, the survey said.

Government security officers are attempting to adapt to an influx of millennial workers, the report said—their strategies included encouraging more flexible scheduling, allowing for information to be accessed on mobile devices, and emphasizing bring-your-own-device policy in security awareness programs so employees understand the risks.

Still, "millennials’ potentially risky behavior is also what makes them successful and efficient at multitasking and raising their job performance," the report said. On average, "millennials are able to maneuver 27 times per hour among tools such as their phones, tablets, computer and television, demonstrating a comfort level with technology that boomers never had."

Forcepoint recommended creating "real-world policies" tailored to millennial audiences.

"Old style government directives with 'thou shalt not …' wording won’t resonate," the report said. "Millennials will ignore them. Instead, when they understand and respect the rules, you can be 'noisy' about your security policies as you enforce them."