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Is burnout leading to a rise in cyber attacks?

Millennials are more likely to feel overwhelmed by their workload, fall victim to phishing attacks and send emails to the wrong people, a new survey of 1,000 Brits has indicated.

According to Tessian, the security vendor which commissioned the research, this is no coincidence: stressed employees, the company says, are more likely to make mistakes when it comes to cyber security.

The study found that 17 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 would describe their workloads as “overwhelming”, compared to just six per cent of those between 18 and 24 and 45 and 54, nine per cent of those aged 55 or over and 10 per cent of 35-44-year-olds.

Meanwhile around one in five 25-34-year-olds reported having clicked on a phishing email at work, nearly twice the number of those in other age ranges. Some 66 per cent of those aged 25-34 had accidentally sent a work email to the wrong person, compared to 60 per cent of those between 18 and 24 and less than half of those aged over 35.

While the survey focused exclusively on people working nine to five jobs in companies with over 100 people, it did not ask workers about the extent of their email usage, which may have skewed the results.

However, Dr Helen Jones, a cyber psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire who worked on Tessian’s report, noted that existing research suggests overworked staff may be less alert to threats.

“When people are overloaded from a psychological perspective, whether that’s because they’re trying to do two things at once or are tired, they can’t give us much attention as they’d normally be able to,” she told NS Tech. “In a phishing email, there would be cues as to the fraudulent nature of the email, but when we’re under pressure we can’t process information in the same way. That’s quite concerning when it comes to protecting organisations from those threats.”

Tim Sadler, the chief executive of Tessian, which uses machine learning to crack down on rogue emails, said businesses must reduce the burden on employees if they are to prevent avoidable breaches. “Business need to fully understand the impact stress and demanding workloads have on their employees, find ways to use technology to ease the pressures and encourage millennials to think before they click, at a time when security is the last thing on their minds”.

While stressed workers may be vulnerable to threats, those responsible for protecting them are also feeling the heat. Research published in May found that seven out of 10 security workers have considered quitting their jobs because they are struggling to stem the tide of attacks.