You might think the people who grew up in an Internet-connected world would be the ones best prepared to cope with the dangers it presents. But no, new research reveals that 18-24 years old, the so called Generation Y, are actually highly likely to ignore advice about risky behaviour online despite claiming to know most about online safety.

The research commissioned by RSA suggests that when it comes to online life, convenience trumps security as far as most young adults are concerned. Indeed, it even reckons that this risky online behaviour is negatively impacting their future career prospects and financial standings as well as leaving them vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

More than 1000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 were polled regarding their online activity and the security precautions they take. Over seven out of ten of them admitted they are not always as careful as they should be when posting and accessing information online, and they regularly make risky choices when engaging in activities such as file sharing and social networking.

The study suggests that while young adults understand the mounting risks associated with unsafe online habits, they are not taking the appropriate actions to change those behaviours, leaving themselves vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. While 73 percent of survey respondents acknowledge concern about being a victim of online fraud or identity theft, 71 percent also admit that despite good intentions, they are not always as careful as they should be when it comes to their personal online safety. More than 50 percent of all respondents admitted to both using the same password for all of their online accounts and staying logged in to their personal sites to avoid the time and hassle of logging-in every time. Additionally, more than 75 percent of those surveyed said most people their age are willing to accept more risk when purchasing items online in return for lower prices.

The results also point to risky online behaviour increasing the exposure to threats that potentially can have long-lasting negative effects on financial history, credit scores and housing opportunities. However, 55 percent of those surveyed indicate they never check their credit report, and 35 percent do not always check bank records after making online purchases. Moreover, 31 percent of those surveyed admit they do not always take steps to verify a website is legitimate before submitting credit card information. The survey also polled young adults regarding their online behaviour and how it may affect job searches, finding that while 76 percent indicate they are currently or soon plan to begin searching for a job, and 67 percent have posted inappropriate content, photos, and/or videos involving cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and sex online, which could potentially limit employment opportunities.

"The irony of these findings is that the generation that has grown up with the greatest percentage of its life knowing technology and the Internet and that claims to know about the risks of technology is the one that is ignoring the good advice" said Sam Curry, Chief Technologist at RSA. "When you engage in unsafe or risky because in the virtual world, those risks can spill over into the physical world. Unlike people – who might forget with time – the Internet has a permanent memory and some members of Generation Y are learning this the hard way" Curry continues, concluding "many are aware they are neglecting basic security precautions when participating in online activities, such as social networking, and unfortunately are experiencing malware infection and other negative consequences to their identity and reputation as a result".

About the Author

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

I wonder if age has anything to with it. I wonder how many older adults regularly check their credit scores or verify a web site is legitimate or do any of these things.

Perhaps leaving compromising pictures is one that younger people are more likely to do, but the other things are behaviors many people are ignorant about.


Yes, it would have been nice to have seen responses to the same questions from younger and older respondents to get the bigger picture. That said, it's still interesting to note that the research suggests the group of people that you might expect (as a result of them growing up in Internet aware age) to have the greatest understanding of safety/security issues are also dismissing them in the name of convenience. As a standalone survey on that particular area of concern I find it, erm, concerning :)

This just in:
Younger people more likely to engage in risky behavior than older persons.

Really, I don't find it surprising at all. The venue may change, but ignoring risk or discounting consequences is not something new for the younger demographic.

Been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

The "internet memory" is an interesting new wrinkle though. For us slightly older folks, any existing pictures of our indiscretions are most likely safely tucked away forgotten in some shoebox in an attic, never to be perused by potential employers. :)

Oh I dunno - I had a book published last year which included a whole host of my indiscretions dug up and displayed for people to discover. Whoops.

Good job I work for myself, I guess. :)