Dec 21 2020

3 Ways to Adapt Your Cybersecurity Messaging for Generation Z

College students are tech savvy, but not necessarily when it comes to cybersecurity.

The great majority of today’s undergraduate Generation Z students connect to campus Wi-Fi with two or more devices, according to the EDUCAUSE “2020 Student Technology Report.” And while most students are confident about their use of technology, they’re not necessarily as knowledgeable about keeping their devices secure.

Students are doing more than schoolwork online. They’re also using campus Wi-Fi to post on social media, stream multimedia and play video games. The more use cases and devices, the larger the attack surfaces for campus networks.

“For malicious actors looking to steal valuable data and disrupt networks, higher education is fertile ground,” note the authors of a white paper on higher education security from Dell. “Fast growth and disparate technologies have, in many institutions, resulted in security practices that can barely keep up with day-to-day operations, let alone stay ahead of sophisticated cybersecurity attacks and exploits.”

Helen Patton, CISO of The Ohio State University, knows that a secure campus requires individuals to make the right choices.

During a security roundtable hosted by Proofpoint, Patton emphasized that students are sophisticated in certain areas of technology, such as social media.

“But in higher ed,” she said, “there are certain technologies they haven’t been introduced to before, and they are certainly not secure in the way they handle those.”

Patton’s advice is especially important right now, as hackers have upped their use of phishing emails to target students. In addition, as more classes have transitioned from in-person to online, hackers have ambushed class videoconferencing sessions.

1. Find the Best Channels to Share Cybersecurity Messaging

To keep students informed and updated about issues, EDUCAUSE recommends creating “campus-based information security awareness campaigns.” This means helping students learn what they can do as individuals to keep their devices safe.

As effective messaging channels, colleges might consider video and in-person learning opportunities. Corey Seemiller, a researcher and author of Generation Z Goes to College, notes that 90 percent of Gen Z students seek new information primarily on YouTube, and, contrary to what many might imagine, in-person communication remains overwhelmingly popular.

“Although it may seem that those in Generation Z have their heads buried in their phones texting their friends, we found that in-person communication is actually the No. 1 communication preference for Generation Z,” says Seemiller of her research.

2. Increase Transparency About Campus Threats and Risks

Verizon’s “2020 Data Breach Investigations Report” gives educational institutions a failing grade when it comes to reporting phishing incidents. Only a quarter of education organizations reported any phishing activity at all, and just 50 percent reported seeing any of the major phishing campaigns that hit other industries.

Increasing transparency helps on several levels. First, if users know they may be targeted by a certain phishing scam, they’re more likely to avoid it and even to report an attempted attack. As students become more accustomed to reporting attempts, they may alert the security organization of new scams, helping to mitigate threats before they infiltrate the entire organization.

RELATED: Educate your users about common myths related to VPN security.

3. Ask for Students’ Input About Cybersecurity Needs

At The Ohio State University, Patton recognizes that most people simply don’t think about device security. For that reason, she and her team created Cybersecurity for You, a platform that invites users to ask questions about keeping their devices and information safe. That way, students may be more invested in their own security.

“We’ve now got a way for people to give input into what they want to know,” she says in a video about the future of cybersecurity at OSU. “It’s definitely innovative in higher ed, and in other industries as well. This is a real game changer for us.”

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