While major corporate breaches and ransomware attacks like WannaCry continue to get the most attention, we are also seeing a rise in attacks that directly target consumers and employees. Lax company privacy measures and poor cyber hygiene make a hacker’s job easy and make us all prime targets. National Cyber Security Awareness Month is the perfect time to stop, think, and then connect in a way that keeps us safe online.

Often, the full risks associated with social sharing aren’t glaringly evident. For example, we willingly give up data for some benefit, whether it’s connecting with friends and family, signing up online for discounts or “free stuff,” or engaging with what’s trendy in the moment. But where our data goes – directly to the vendor, to third parties, or unwittingly to cyber criminals – can be a mystery.

Users of All Ages Are Susceptible to Cyber Risks

These days, no one is immune. Younger users and employees who have come of age using social media, often seem more transparent and open with what they share on public platforms. They do not have the life experience, nor the judgment, to see the future impact of oversharing personal details. But older people can be vulnerable online, too. Many older folks don’t realize that hackers can use ransomware or phishing attacks against them – for example, through ploys like hijacking photos of their grandchildren. And users in midlife can be so consumed with work and family obligations that they don’t have time to keep up with vendors’ changing privacy settings, refresh their passwords, or regularly back up their devices. We all have our cyber kryptonite that might allow jerks and crooks in to harm us.

Reducing Cyber Risks

What’s to be done? First, digital providers must understand their customers’ privacy and security needs and design digital experiences with appropriate context. If you want to be a trusted business, it’s not enough to have the minimum of security or basic compliance with the laws that govern your business. Think about going beyond. People are linking their lives to your digital services, driving an ethical and moral imperative for technical providers to up their game. It’s a big responsibility to run a social platform today.

To many online vendors’ credit, privacy settings have become much more clear and granular over the past few years. Unfortunately, as a consequence, settings change more often, forcing users to stay watchful over their preferences which could auto-revert to a non-preferred setting. To help, digital businesses can increase user education and outreach in places where their audiences naturally go. For example, use various social channels such as YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and podcasts to disseminate security and privacy updates.

Of course in the always-on world, personal preferences enter the workplace as well. Here is where younger generations may well have a distinct advantage. Because they’ve grown up with issues such as cyber-bullying, they might be more sensitive to online pitfalls and the risk to brand reputation. Their penchant for social connection can make them good brand ambassadors if you train them early and often about what makes or breaks a brand over time. And younger workers’ expectations of authenticity can encourage seasoned workers to be more open in the workplace.

Strike a Balance Between Privacy and Controls

It’s no longer possible to completely separate our work and private lives and still participate online. Our world is “always on,” and the need for an integrated life is the best means for survival in an intense playing field. You need the right balance between personal and professional personas, and judgment  matters before sharing crosses the line. For instance, managers might withhold certain information for very good reasons, like the law or confidentiality requirements. Those same managers are tasked with leading with authenticity and transparency to build loyalty and trust.

At Cisco, we believe the digital economy can only flourish when you connect people, process, data and things in an ethical, relevant and secure way. This is how we create an environment where everyone can more easily do business and trust that their data is safeguarded. As we kick off National Cyber Security Awareness Month, let’s all – vendors and users – stop and think about our part in making that trustworthy environment a reality.

Listen to the Privacy Sigma Riders podcast series for more insights on security, trust and privacy from Michelle and some of the leading voices in the industry.

Visit our Cisco Trust Center  for our perspective on data protection and privacy,


Michelle Dennedy

No Longer with Cisco