You will probably recognize Symantec as the company behind the rather awful anti-virus program Norton. Nevertheless, each year the company published a very interesting report detailing the cost of digital exploitation on consumers. This year’s compilation reported a total cost of 5 billion US dollars greater than the GDP of Iraq. I will admit that is rather an arbitrary comparison, but a colorful one. A more tangible number is instead the average cost of a single hack: $142 and nearly three full work days of ‘clean-up’ work for the victim. That might not seem all that bad but with more than half of the United States’ population affected, the numbers add up.
To me though, the demographics is the most interesting part of Symantec’s report and it is these numbers that this post concerns. Before reading the report, I assumed that my sweet great aunt to be at a substantially higher risk of being exploited on the internet than one of my Millennial (technically Generation Z) peers. However, according to Symantec’s report, it is entirely the opposite. 60% of Millennials experienced cyber crime last year while baby boomers and seniors were in fact the safest age groups.
This is the direct result of two main issues: hubris and connectivity. The most obvious one, connectivity, is hidden in plain sight. I barely know a peer of mine that doesn’t own a smartphone and a laptop; most friends of mine in fact also own some type of tablet. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to encounter smart home devices such as a Google Home or an Alexa. What people fail to grasp though, is the simple truth that as you increase your presence on the internet, you simultaneously become more exposed to malevolence. The greater your presence on the internet – directly, such as with a phone, or indirectly, such as with a smart home device – the greater the amount of attack vectors exist.
One example of presence is online shopping and the use of a credit cards online. Naturally, if you use your card on Amazon, you must now trust Amazon to protect this information. If Amazon experiences a breach, the hackers now has access to your card and can use it to order things online or perhaps buy crypto currency – effectively the digital equivalent to going to an ATM. Let us now imagine you instead prefer to shop from vendors directly. In this case, you would use your credit card separately at maybe twenty different sites. Now, your credit card information is in the hands of twenty different companies, and, as such, your credit card is roughly twenty times more exposed. Naturally, this is because only one of the twenty companies has to be breached for your credit card to be accessible. This is of course not specific to Amazon, but I hope you get the point.
Hubris is a much more important issue though since it, unlike exposure, can be fixed without much loss at all. My generation, as mentioned previously, is subject to most attacks. At the same time, we are the first generation to grow up with the internet. Indeed, we are so intimately familiar with it that it seems preposterous to claim that we are completely illiterate from a security standpoint. In the same way that a city kid learns which streets to avoid and to watch out for cars, it would seem natural for the internet generation to know the risks of the internet. For whatever reason though, we don’t – worse yet is the fact that we think we do. Millennials, and indeed most people, routinely do the digital analog to walking out into the street without first checking for cars. Even more frightening is the fact that my generation does this and thinks it is good practice. Hubris indeed!
The hubris is dangerous and a direct effect of poor education on the matter. This is part of the reason why the banishment of technology in schools is nothing short of ridiculous. In lieu of formal education on the matter though, you may want to check out my accompanying post Staying Safe Online: The Bare Minimum and learn what you can do to severely decrease the risk of becoming part of Symantec’s next report.