Four Reasons Why Millennials Should Care About Safer Internet Day

Editor’s note: Diana Shafer joined the Year Up program following her passion for computers and technology and is currently an intern at Symantec as part of the Symantec Cyber Career Connection (SC3) program. 

Growing up, I was always close to technology. I explored the vast world of the Internet from a young age. I created my first email account when I was 10 years old, but had no concept of acting safe online and signed up for numerous websites that promised free TVs and other cool prizes. It wasn’t long before I fell victim to phishing attacks and almost sent money to someone in Florida for a puppy.

As I got older, I started to see the repercussions of downloading dubious files and trusting everything I saw online. My computer speed came to a screeching halt as spyware and malware swarmed in and bogged down my system. I quickly learned to avoid bogus websites and installed various anti-virus protections for my family’s computers. My computer got fast again, my parents were impressed with my tech savviness, and I found myself a new passion for computers.

Fast-forward to 2014, the year the hack went viral. From Staples to eBay to Sony Pictures, last year taught us that companies, governments and consumers are not safe from data breaches. And cyber threats will only continue to increase, especially as connected devices are expected to outnumber connected people six to one by 2020.

So what are millennials doing to prepare our society for a safe and secure future?

The issue of cybersecurity goes beyond governments and corporations to my generation, as well. In celebration of Safer Internet Day — an international education and awareness-raising effort spanning more than 100 countries around the globe — I offer reasons I believe Internet safety matters to millennials:

Today, cybercrime is happening everywhere – meanwhile, millennials have the opportunity to claim this new frontier. As millennials, we occupy a unique position between our generational counterparts. Our generation is responsible for helping to educate the younger generation, as well as adults stuck in their old ways, on cybersecurity and how to be a responsible Internet user.

In 2014, global cyber-attacks shot up 48 percent and the costs to businesses have grown to over $12.7 million annually. Millennials are digital natives; with this power comes the responsibility to command the territory responsibly.

The cybersecurity field is facing a global shortage of qualified IT security professionals. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. are unfilled, according to the 2014 Cisco Annual Security Report (CASR), and job postings are up 74 percent over the past five years. It’s up to us to spread the word about the importance of cybersecurity and the steps our generation can take to get into the field.

We live in a time of high youth unemployment – both in the United States and abroad – and there’s a growing, global need for cybersecurity professionals. That’s not to mention the under-representation of women in these careers who make up just 11 percent of the information technology profession. Safer Internet Day is a time for our generation to think about how we can change our representation and agency in these fields in order to secure a safer future for all to enjoy.

Millennials are interested but clueless about the cybersecurity profession. Almost two-thirds of millennials don’t know or aren’t sure what the cybersecurity profession is, according to a survey sponsored by Raytheon and the National Cyber Security Alliance. Sixty-three percent said they were not sure or did not know the typical range of responsibilities and job tasks involved in the cyber profession.

Safer Internet Day is an example of building awareness around cyber safety among youth, but we have to continue that momentum. Whether it’s through computer classes, mentors or online research – we’ve got to take the steps to understand the issues surrounding Internet security and what role we can play – now and in the future.

The Internet is rapidly changing and new cybersecurity risks surface every day. The high-profile attacks of 2014 brought the world’s attention to issues like data protection, encryption, privacy and surveillance. This raises the question: What does 2015 have in store for us? From mobile payments to wearable technologies, tech is constantly evolving and opening up new opportunities for hackers.

Change represents opportunity for the do-gooders, too. Millennials are known for our adaptability and love of change – and when it comes to cybersecurity, we can apply our talents to a field where they are sorely needed. So ask yourself, what can you do to help make the future of our connected world safe and secure? Whether you’re helping a sibling navigate a new app, helping stop cyberbullying or joining the next generation of cyber firefighters like me, think about the role you can play in our ever-evolving tech world. And of course – don’t get duped into buying that online puppy.

On Tuesday, Feb. 10, Facebook is hosting Safer Internet Day 2015: Actions & Activism Toward a Better Net & World. I will be tweeting from the event for anyone who wants to follow along.