“With great power comes great responsibility.” The immortal words of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben have become so famous and overused that it’s hard to tell whether or not anybody takes them to heart anymore. Peter Parker, the man underneath the Spider-Man mask, always remembered what Uncle Ben said, letting this phrase guide his actions as a superhero–but I sometimes wonder if Ben’s message wouldn’t have made such a profound impression if they hadn’t been accompanied by tragedy.
The greatest power of our time comes in the form of technology, and while its application is vast and the future under its influence seem limitless, the last couple of years have indicated a great need for more protection, security, and, in short, responsibility–and many of us, it seems, know it too. A Gallup poll from May, 2015 reveals that 44% of millennials think their personal information is kept private “all the time” or “most of the time” by companies they do business with. Only 32% of Generation X and baby boomers, on the other hand, believe their information is as secure. Surprisingly, these figures indicate that Millennials are much more trusting of an internet populated with their personal data than any other age group.
“As digital natives, no one told us about privacy or online security,” explains Jared Benoff, a senior organizational sciences major at George Washington University. “We’re sort of the test generation, and we’re [just now] learning the implications.”
Secure Mentum president, Ira Winkler, expands on this in a U.S. News piece: “Everybody thinks millennials have been using tech from the start, so therefore they know all the problems, they know all the pitfalls and they’re much more aware,” she says. “That’s almost exactly the opposite.”
A study last year by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Raytheon indicates as much, finding that 72% of the 1,000 millennials surveyed had connected to public Wi-Fi not secured with passwords, and 52% had used a USB device given to them by someone else. Another study from Raytheon in 2013 reported that 23% of Millennials admitted to sharing an online password with a nonfamily member within the past year.
But it’s not just Millennials–or even individuals for that matter–who have been failing spectacularly in terms of online security. Some of the worst perpetrators of poor cybersecurity practices are businesses themselves, who still suffer from employees that keep their passwords on workstation post-it notes, fall victim to social engineering, and sometimes even elect to forgo encryption policies. The federal government itself has been guilty of subpar authentication measures in the past, raising concerns about national security in a world embracing connectivity at break neck speeds.
In an article with USA Today, Jordan Wiens, an engineering lead from cybersecurity firm Raytheon, sums up the problem: “The way the Internet has grown up, security was sort of an afterthought, which we’re regretting right now.”
Wiens is right. The infrastructure that the internet was built upon has long since been proven wildly insecure–and yet we continue to focus on adding to it instead of fixing the foundation. We’re producing self-driving cars, but not addressing their vulnerabilities to hacking. We’re demanding doctors adopt electronic healthcare records at a federal level, but for some reason don’t seem to want to bolster security for the healthcare industry. We’re trending toward connecting our entire homes to the internet, without knowing (or caring?) that these devices that run our last refuges of privacy and safety are oftentimes “easy targets for hackers”. With such important aspects of our lives on the line, why hasn’t something been done to rectify this situation?
Many sources point to the ‘cyber security skills gap’ as the main obstacle barring a lasting, secure solution. On average, 47% of businesses polled say a security analyst is their top job needing to be filled, while 25% say they currently have a problematic shortage of information skills, more than any other skill set. This predicament is another facet of the infamous STEM skills gap that’s been gripping industry for the past couple of years now.
The previous mentioned NCSA/Raytheon study states that “after so many high profile cyber security breaches over the past year, it should come as no surprise that so many students are curious about what cybersecurity jobs entail,” but also that “almost two-thirds of Millennial respondents don’t know or aren’t even sure what the ‘cybersecurity’ profession is.” Worse than that, the report goes on to state that a 64% majority of students don’t have access to computer classes in high school so that they may learn the skills required for a career in information security–or many other computer science-related careers for that matter.
Wiens has seen these reports, and insists that we need to take action to get kids educated, and get these jobs filled sson. “There’s a point where we need to get serious,” he says, “otherwise, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Fortunately, a small number of groups such as the National Cyber Security Alliance are combating the gap with initiatives such as National Cyber Security Awareness Month and guides for teaching online safety to the community and school-aged children. Groups like these have a lot to teach–not just in terms of technical knowledge, but in the philosophy that if you’re not actively making the internet a safer place by practicing responsible practices, you’re only adding to the problem.
More initiatives like these are needed desperately, especially among Millennials and Gen Z, because within the internet we’ve found such great, unbridled power. Now, we need to practice responsibility and harness that power with security–before tragedy strikes.
In an effort to prevent our worst nightmares from coming true, must remember and act upon Uncle Ben’s words now, instead of as an afterthought–instead of as a eulogy for what could have been.
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