Surprise! Gen X and millennials share similar views on security

Fortinet survey reveals that the two generations think alike about passwords, privacy, and online marketing

What do 40 percent of folks aged between 18 and 48 never do unless they don't have a choice? Change their passwords.

It's one of the many pieces of data uncovered by security outfit Fortinet after canvassing members of both Generation X (ages 33 to 48) and millennials (ages 18 to 32), half male and half female. The resulting poll assesses the generational differences in attitudes toward passwords, personal data security, and privacy.

But the results say at least as much about general attitudes on those subjects across generations as they do about specific differences between generations, especially since the cross-generational differences don't vary as widely as might be believed.

Around 40 percent of all respondents, across both the Gen X and millennial generations, said they never change their password except when they're prompted to do so; of the 60 percent who change passwords on their own, the most common interval for a password change was around three months. Coincidentally or not, that's around the same length of time for a password change as enforced by many companies.

One area where the generations differed noticeably in the survey involved mobile device security. About half of the Gen Xers polled locked their mobile devices, compared to 63 percent of millennials -- not a massive difference, but perhaps enough of one to hint at how millennials have a better firsthand sense of the importance of mobile device security.

On the other hand, the study found plenty of overlap between the generations. For starters, both generations wisely ranked their Social Security number as the single most valuable piece of personal information. Both were more or less in agreement that the NSA had overstepped its bounds (41 percent millennials, 47 percent Gen X), and they rarely felt having their employers inspect their online activity was necessary (16 percent millennials, 9 percent Gen X). Finally, both generations were in agreement (60 percent each) that posts on social media shouldn't have the same expectations of privacy as, say, personal emails, purchase histories, or phone audio.

The real takeaway is the overlap once the whole picture is taken into account. In that larger view, one that encompasses three generations of potentially tech-savvy workers, each reared with different degrees of immersion in and expertise with technology, it becomes clear how the generations in question have more similarities than they do stark differences.

If these stats hold up under scrutiny from other sources, they ought to help put to rest the idea that millennials are somehow aberrantly unlike previous generations in their IT habits, both in and out of the workplace. InfoWorld's Galen Gruman took the stance that millennials aren't the driving force in consumerization or BYOD they've been cracked up to be. They aren't the only source of workforce technological savvy either -- or the only portion of the population that wants their technology on their terms, security concerns notwithstanding.

This story, "Surprise! Gen X and millennials share similar views on security," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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