New survey finds cybersecurity a major issue for millennial voters

A study from Raytheon and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) finds that more young voters are looking at cyber safety as a major issue this election cycle.

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In a year that has seen several high-profile hacks, from Yahoo to the Democratic National Committee, millennial voters increasingly see cybersecurity as a major election issue, according to a new survey from Raytheon and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). 

The survey found that 53 percent of young adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 26 say that a political candidate’s position on cybersecurity impacts their level of support for that candidate. Within this cohort, 60 percent of men and 47 percent of women said cybersecurity issues would impact their vote. In general, overall awareness of cyber attacks as a major security threat have increased in the past year for these young adults. The study found that the number of young adults who have either read about or heard accounts of cyber attacks in the past year increased from 36 percent in 2015 to 64 percent in 2016.

“I think, to me, these findings represent how important the internet is in young people’s lives. They are living in an atmosphere and see in this particular campaign a lot of discussions of emails being hacked and potential election systems being hacked. It speaks to integrity. It shows that these young people have  lived through a lot of big security breaches, and in a breach-heavy environment, this is an important issue to them,” Michael Kaiser, the NCSA’s executive director, told CBS News. “I’m pleasantly surprised at how much cybersecurity is on their minds, how they’re using it to think about the candidates.”

A big part of this, of course, is that millennials have largely grown up in a world where the Internet and email have always existed. For Valecia Maclin, the director of cybersecurity and special missions at Raytheon, it is a no-brainer that this generation that “relies on the Internet and social media in how they get their news” would take cybersecurity into account when exercising their right to vote.

“I look at the trends from last year to this year and I think that you can make the connection strongly that, in terms of discussions about emails and hacks, millennials are more aware of their cybersecurity and that in and of itself is promising,” Maclin told CBS News. 

While many of these voters find cyber safety to be a crucial part of how they decide to vote, 50 percent of those surveyed said that cybersecurity has not been a “big enough part of the discussion” heading into the presidential election.

“I think with the 60-second snapshots of these issues that get peeled out from what someone may mention on the campaign trail, I don’t know that I would use that as form to educate people about cybersecurity one way or another,” Maclin asserted.

She said that in the short window of time of an ever-shifting news cycle, it is hard even for cybersecurity professionals to quickly and accurately provide information to the public. Sometimes, she said, you don’t want all of the details out in the open as quickly as possible.

“There is this recognition among young people that this, in fact, is going to be a big part of their future careers,” Kaiser said of cyber safety. “It’s a strong sign to our elected officials to make these things a priority.”

In fact, interest in cyber attacks has grown so much that more young adults are expressing a desire to enter a career in cybersecurity. The study revealed that, globally, 37 percent of young adults -- 34 percent in the U.S. -- are more likely than a year ago to consider a career in the field. This is up from 28 percent globally and 26 percent domestically in 2015. While interest in the field has increased, there remains an at-times troubling gender gap. Globally, 54 percent of young men -- up from 46 percent last year -- were “aware of job tasks involved in the cybersecurity profession.” Young women were less aware of what career opportunities in the field -- just 36 percent of millennial women around the world and 33 percent in the U.S. reported being aware of cybersecurity jobs.

Maclin stressed that part of the problem has to do with pop culture and media depictions of cybersecurity professionals. Often, a spy show will depict a loner male working on his computer in a darkened room. She said that couldn’t be further removed from the truth. 

“You see the image of the cyber professional who is a man with no social skills, and it’s so counter to what the profession requires,” Maclin said. “You have to overcome that image.” 

Part of overcoming that image involves shining more of a spotlight on accomplished women -- like Maclin -- in the field, Kaiser added.

The discussion about bridging gender gaps and creating a more diverse cybersecurity workforce is particularly timely in an election season so charged along gender lines. Kaiser said that this year, many young people are entering the political arena for the first time, and as a result, refocusing the political conversation around these cybersecurity issues.

“At some level for a lot of young people, if you are under 21, this is the first election that you’ve participated in,” Kaiser said. “They are kind of coming of political age and dragging the internet in there with them.” 

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    Brian Mastroianni covers science and technology for CBSNews.com