Cyberstress: How Technology Is Changing Our Brains

The internet has become an extension of our brains. Perhaps not surprisingly, this presents at least a couple of different problems. One of those is digital amnesia: the idea that we rely so heavily on our phones and other devices that we can no longer remember basic information. Another is the phenomenon of cyberstress, which is how we refer to the anxiety that many people feel about cybersecurity and the fear that they might be victimized.

Cyberstress has changed from an abstract fear just a few years ago into a daily concern. Mega-breaches such as the 2017 Equifax breach and the Capital One breach this past summer have directly affected hundreds of millions of Americans.

The psychological toll that these issues can take is worth a closer look, with an eye toward understanding how the security industry might be able to help people build healthier relationships with technology. By better understanding such human problems, we may be able to start to do more than just protect networks and devices and help bring on a future in which we all realize the full benefits of technology without experiencing so many negative side effects.

Digital Amnesia

In 2015, Kaspersky researched how the internet and connected devices were transforming people’s everyday lives. We found that our increasing reliance on technology to store knowledge was making us unable to remember some really basic information.

Then, in 2019, we did the research again and found that the problem is even worse. Only 60% of people surveyed can recall their significant others’ phone number without looking it up on their phone, a 10% drop from the first time we did the study.

With people becoming even more reliant on their phones, you might hope that would mean that they’d make more of an effort to protect them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Only about half (52%) of consumers protect their mobile devices with a password and less than a quarter (24%) said they use a security solution on their devices.

Cyberstress

One reason people may not want to worry about protecting their phones is that it stresses them out. Our research also found that people are feeling unprecedented levels of stress about protecting their personal data from online threats.

Specifically, people are stressed out about passwords—3 in 4 people told us that the number of passwords they have to manage causes them stress.

They’re also worried about data breaches. Sixty-eight percent of people surveyed told us that the news of data breaches caused them stress, and for good reason: 34% of Americans said that within the last year, their digital data was compromised in a breach.

Unfortunately, that stress does not appear to be having a positive impact on cybersecurity habits. Thirty percent of people still use the same passwords for all or most of their online accounts, a figure that jumps to 44% among 16-to-24 year-olds. On top of that, very few people—only 11%—say they’re willing to use a password manager to make it all easier.

A New Way to Talk About Security

So how do you help people who understand that their lives have become increasingly dependent on technology and are concerned that they are therefore more vulnerable to cyberthreats but still don’t want to do much about it?

One idea is to start talking about it differently. Self-care, wellness and stress management are hot topics these days, and it may make sense to encourage better security hygiene by putting it in those terms. Psychologists tell us that there is such a thing as “good stress,” which can help motivate, build resilience and encourage growth. We should encourage people to take control of their digital lives by attaining a healthier level of cyberstress.

We can also pivot from focusing only on cybersecurity to the wider concept of cyber-immunity. That should involve things such as helping create connected systems that are secure-by-design and trying to make sure we establish higher industry standards that ensure security will no longer be treated as an optional add-on layer at the end.

People are now fully aware that data breaches are a fact of life, so how do we help them to operate confidently in that world? There may be a lot of risks, but technology also does great things such as connecting us across platforms and borders and helping us collaborate. So we need to do more than just protect devices; it’s about developing a digital ecosystem where everything is safe. If we can collectively build our cyber immunity, we can help people establish a better relationship with technology such that it’s not causing so much stress or forgetfulness.

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Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson

As vice president of consumer sales, Kaspersky Lab North America, Brian Anderson is responsible for leading the company’s digital transformation strategy, which includes setting sales strategies to maximize business to consumer business opportunities within the region. Brian brings nearly 25 years of technology, marketing and management experience to Kaspersky Lab. Prior to joining the company in 2017, he served as vice president of digital strategy and innovation at Avid Technology. He has also held leadership roles at Progress Software, Philips Electronics and ISOBAR, a global digital agency. Brian holds an MBA from Babson College and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

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