Survey reveals generation gap in attitudes about security and privacy

Tony Bradley


Security and privacy are important concerns for anyone, especially in the wake of revelations about NSA intelligence activities and massive data breaches like the one at Target. A new study from Fortinet, however, indicates that security and privacy behavior differs significantly by generation.

Fortinet surveyed 150 Gen-X users and 150 Millenials with an even split between male and female respondents. The sample size may be a bit small to be scientifically conclusive, but the results are interesting nevertheless.

When it comes to password practices, the majority change their passwords periodically, even if it's only once a year. More than 40 percent of both Gen-X and Millenial respondents indicated that they never change their passwords, or only change their passwords when forced to. The good news is that only seven percent of those surveyed report using the same password everywhere. Four out of 10 respondents claim to use a unique password for each site and service.

Nearly half of Gen-Xers also fail to protect their smartphone with a PIN or passcode of some sort, while only 37 percent of Millenials are that cavalier. The standard 4-digit PIN is the most popular method, followed by a more complex alphanumeric password. Swiping patterns are used by just over 20 percent, but only five percent use biometric authentication such as facial recognition.

Social Security numbers ranked as the most valuable personal information to protect for both generations, but after that the responses diverge--particularly when it comes to protecting work email. Work email came in as the fifth highest concern for Gen-X, but it didn't even make the top 5 for Millenials.

John Maddison, vice president of marketing for Fortinet pointed out that this sentiment is concerning. A previous survey from Fortinet found that 51 percent of Millenials would ignore company policies restricting the use of their own devices or cloud services at work. "Taken together, Millennials are essentially saying, We don't care what our employers say. We'll use whatever device we want to at work and if businesses data gets lost or goes missing, too bad.'"

That generation gap--and the difference in philosophy about security and privacy--illustrates changing attitudes about what information is important, and what's not. The cavalier attitude about work policies and protecting work data will be a growing concern for employers as Millenials make up an increasing segment of the working population.