Cybersecurity Concerns Reportedly Rise Among US Workers with Most Worried About AI in Online Security

Widespread concerns are growing among US employees about escalating cybersecurity threats in the workplace, with 53% worried their organization will be the target of a cyber attack and a third (34%) worried that they may be the ones leaving their organization vulnerable due to their actions, according to new data from Ernst & Young LLP (EY US).

Notably, fear of exposing their organization to a cyber attack “is particularly high among younger generations, with Gen Z and Millennial employees less likely to feel equipped to identify and respond to cyber threats compared to their older colleagues.”

The 2024 Human Risk in Cybersecurity Survey is “a study of 1,000 employed Americans across public and private sectors that follows the initial 2022 analysis by EY US and explores the current state of cybersecurity and changes over time, revealing key insights for business leaders on cybersecurity awareness and practices.”

This year, EY US expanded the study “to analyze employee perception of the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in escalating threats, finding 85% of workers believe AI has made cybersecurity attacks more sophisticated, 78% are concerned about the use of AI in cyber attacks and 39% of employees are not confident that they know how to use AI responsibly.”

Similar to the 2022 findings, the latest EY US cybersecurity study “highlights a persistent gap in preparedness across generations, with younger workers continuing to fall short of exercising safe cybersecurity practices more so than older generations.”

In fact, Gen Z is losing confidence “in their ability to recognize phishing attempts — one of the most common and successful tactics of social engineering attacks — and is most likely to admit to opening a suspicious link.”

And now, with the power of AI-generated phishing emails, “spotting malicious links and content is getting even harder.”

Although they are a digital-first generation, only 31% of Gen Z feel very confident identifying phishing attempts, “marking an alarming nine percentage point drop from 40% in 2022, and 72% said they have opened an unfamiliar link that seemed suspicious at work, far higher than Millennials (51%), Gen X (36%) and Baby Boomers (26%).”

Nearly two-in-three Gen Z and Millennial workers “are particularly fearful about repercussions surrounding cybersecurity, including 64% of Gen Z and 58% of Millennials who fear they would lose their job if they ever left their organization vulnerable to an attack. Younger generations are also more likely to not fully understand what their organization’s process is to report suspected cyber attacks, even though their organization has a process in place (39% Gen Z and 29% Millennials vs. 19% Gen X and 15% Baby Boomers).”

However, it’s not “all doom and gloom.:

Despite concerns around their abilities to prevent an attack, EY research “indicates that Gen Z workers increasingly consider themselves knowledgeable about cybersecurity (86% vs. 75% in 2022), pointing to opportunities to better equip younger workers to turn this knowledge into confidence by investing in upskilling and training that caters to their unique experience as true digital natives.”

The rapidly evolving nature of AI has made it “essential for organizations to adapt training protocols regularly and remain committed to providing frequent, up-to-date training that addresses the latest AI-driven threats and cybercrime trends.”

A vast majority of employees (91%) say organizations “should regularly update their training to keep pace with AI, especially as AI’s role evolves in cyber threats; but only 62% say their employer has made educating employees about responsible AI usage a priority.”

The EY Cybersecurity team advises C-suite and senior business leaders “to incorporate the following leading practices in their cyber agenda to cultivate a strong and confident security culture” within their organization:

  • Build robust training exercises that are reinforced year-round. EY US research finds employees who are “rusty” on cybersecurity training are most fearful of using technology at work. Conversely, 94% of employees who received training within the past year say cybersecurity is a priority to them.
  • Drive employee engagement with gamification. Leaderboards and multiplayer features in gamified training programs encourage healthy competition among employees, driving them to perform better. Gamification is particularly effective for anti-social engineering campaigns if it addresses the natural human curiosity that often leaves employees vulnerable.
  • Partner, don’t police. Organizations testing their employees to see if they handle cybersecurity threats appropriately can inadvertently turn cyber training into a “gotcha” moment. Position cybersecurity protocols as working in partnership with their employees, not as police, by embracing a “see something, say something” policy instead.
  • Make the process for reporting potential attacks and vulnerabilities simple enough that workers across all generations can seamlessly integrate it into their day-to-day lives.
  • Incorporate hands-on AI training protocols. Including protocols that incorporate hands-on training for the use of AI in the workplace offers employees exposure to fundamental capabilities and risks. Having firsthand experience using new technologies like generative AI unlocks a new level of understanding and drives defensive thinking.
  • Lead by example with responsible AI: Thirty-nine percent of employees are not confident that they know how to use AI responsibly, according to EY US research. As stewards of their organization, C-suite and senior leaders must embrace transparency surrounding how AI is developed and deployed enterprise-wide and demonstrate responsible AI practices themselves to mitigate risks.

Methodology

EY US commissioned a third party to “conduct the 2024 Human Risk in Cybersecurity Survey.”

The online survey among n=1,000 full-time and part-time US employees “ages 18+ whose current job requires the use of a work-issued laptop/computer (i.e., a tech-enabled professional).”

The sample was balanced “across age, gender, household income, race and ethnicity, and region. The survey was fielded between March 7–15, 2024. The margin of error (MOE) for the total sample is +/- 3 percentage points.”


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