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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be... in Cybersecurity? Poll Shows Young People Unaware of Field

Millennials' Risky Online Behavior

Many kids dream of becoming doctors, lawyers and firefighters when they grow up. Some have hopes of playing in the NBA or starring in a blockbuster summer movie.

Cybersecurity, on the other hand, became Seth Wheeler's profession mostly by chance. Wheeler, 24, said as a child he watched “The Matrix” and other movies with computer hacker themes, but nobody ever mentioned to him the possibility of working in cybersecurity.

After accepting an internship at Raytheon in 2009, Wheeler started doing cybersecurity work as part of his job as a software engineer.

“Cybersecurity was something I lucked into,” said Wheeler, who works at Raytheon in Annapolis Junction, Md. “I like how emergent it is. As cybersecurity evolves, the exploits and hacks are always changing so my job is always challenging and new.”

However, even as the cybersecurity industry creates more jobs, experts say we may not be doing enough to guide young adults into those jobs.

Many students choose college majors and eventual careers based on advice they receive in school.

In a recent poll, 24 percent of 18- to 26-year-olds said they would be interested in a cybersecurity career -- about the same number who expressed interest becoming lawyers.

Preparing Millennials for the Cyber-Future

However, about 82 percent said no high school teacher or guidance counselor had ever mentioned the idea to them. The Sept. 5-9 poll of 1,000 people was commissioned by Raytheon and conducted by Zogby Analytics.

“Cybersecurity? I never heard about it in high school or college,” said Tyece Wilkins, 23, a public relations representative at Raytheon in Dulles, Va. “So I never even considered it a career option.”

Millennials’ “invincibility mindset”

Today, the Internet is a bigger part of our lives than ever before, from online shopping to mobile banking to interacting with friends on social networks. Youth of the Facebook Generation, sometimes referred to as “”Generation F” or the “millennials,” have grown up using social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

That comfort with technology can lead to risky online behavior, the poll shows.

Two-thirds of millennials have connected to a public WiFi without a password in the last month, and nearly a quarter have shared their online passwords with a friend or other non-family member in the past year.

“There’s an invincibility mindset for millennials,” said Wilkins, who is active on the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

“We realize there are cyberthreats but we just assume someone on the back end is handling it and keeping us safe," Wilkins said. "We have this idea that we’re invincible and not in danger, even if it’s not true.”

Some millennials are learning more about online threats and taking steps to protect themselves. Wheeler said he used to post often on MySpace and Facebook – including his email and home address – but now says he’s more aware of the dangers of hacking and online identity theft.

He now uses Facebook only for organizing events with friends about once every three months.

“Everyone my age knows about hackers,” Wheeler said. “It’s like a bogeyman that they know is out there – but no one thinks it’ll happen to them.”

Last Updated: 07/03/2014

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