Cybersecurity Guide for Elderly: Internet Safety, Consequences & Precautions

Are you a senior who needs some help navigating the digital world, or a grandchild looking to help your grandparents navigate the cyberworld? You’re not alone. More and more seniors are looking for ways to stay safe online, but they don’t know where to start.

This guide will provide you with helpful tips on how to be proactive about your safety when browsing the internet.

Why Seniors are Vulnerable to Cybercrime

The rapid adoption in mobile, computers and internet technologies have taken place well into the middle of the average senior’s life cycle. As it is evident that elders are stereotyped and lesser tech-savvy, they are facing challenges with technology. The usage of mobile and internet technologies is  increasing functionality for elders in every aspect of life. Mobile devices have become more affordable, accessible, and easy to understand for every generation while seniors are not comfortable with them. The lack of familiarity creates possibilities for unconvincing scams & cybercrimes that tech-savvy people could simply overlook.

Friction in Tech Adoption & Learning

Elders in their life usually have decreased reactivity which ultimately causes issues to keep up with  rapidly growing technology. There is a condition called “leathery fingers” which makes touch screen use difficult for seniors. According to European Commission statistics, 9% of elders at age 75 or above have serious visual ailments, 18% have challenging hearing issues.

It is well evident that due to different aging processes elders are unable to partake actively in the mainstream Hi-tech cyber world.

According to Pew Research Centre, USA 23% of elders have physical or  different ailments that make reading challenging for them. 77% of elders need assistance in the  learning of smartphones or tablets operations and 55% of elders need help to get connected with  family and friends on different social media forums.

Further reports suggest that around 80% of  elders use the internet on weekly basis. 

Pressure to getting Online, without being Tech Savvy

Increasing pressure for the adaptation of mobile and internet technologies is mounting for elders,  they have to learn new capabilities for better compliance with technologies along with an  understanding of how computers and the internet can support in their transition from conventional  daily interactions to the online world.

These pressures are not only social but also  economical. Major organizations whether public or private like healthcare, retirement monetary  benefits, banks, and other living assistance arrangements are switching to the digital operation  which is in fact, accelerating towards adaptation and learning for elders’ digital experience with very little training. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, elders had to use these technologies for their essential tasks while  many elders who were suffering from isolation switched to internet-enabled devices. Internet somehow decreased their suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic but made them more vulnerable  to cybercrime and cybercriminals used this opportunity towards their advantage.

Cybercrime Phenomenon 

When computers and internet technologies are used as a medium for the commission of a crime  like stealing identities, hacking, online frauds, etc, are termed as cybercrime. With the advent of  computer and internet technologies, a new space has emerged known as cyberspace. Cybercrime  exists in cyberspace and has implications in the physical world. People around the world who are  using internet technologies have very limited knowledge regarding cybercrime which is severely  impacting individuals’ life and societies. 

The exponential growth of computer and internet technologies has also provided vast opportunities  to criminals for carrying out conventional crimes digitally in cyberspace, like fraud, harassment,  extortion, etc. Evolution of internet technologies have impacted positively for well being of  humans globally but it will certainly lead to the transition of cybercrime and could attract more  criminals to cyberspace. Every person or organization who is using internet technology is  vulnerable to cybercrime. Elders are the most vulnerable group due to their deprived knowledge  and skills regarding ever-changing innovations and technologies. 

Cybersecurity Guide For Seniors: Types of Cybercrimes

Some major cybercrime to look out for that tends to target seniors & elderly are:

Social Engineering attempts:

The use of social engineering is an effective way to trick people out of valuable information. A type of tactic that many are unaware about, elder exploitation can be carried on anywhere with human interaction and has been used as a frequent tactic for criminals looking to steal the bank accounts or identity from their unsuspecting victims.

Phishing emails: 

When a criminal design and send deceptive emails to trick a person to reveal confidential  information or to install malware (Malicious Software) in their system is called phishing email. The impersonation with victims and content of these emails varied according to criminals’  objectives. Phishing is the most common cyber attack against elders attempted by cybercriminals by far.

Ransomware: 

Ransomware is a type of cybercrime in which criminals impersonate victims, mostly through  emails as an authoritative person from any legitimate organization. In these emails they send an  attachment, masquerading as something victims should trust. These attachments have malware,  once they download the attached file and open them, it encrypts the files in their system. Due to the encryption of files on their PC, victims can’t access files anymore. Cybercriminals then demand money to  restore or decrypt the files. 

Hack attempts:

It is an attempt by criminals referred to as hackers to gain unlawful access to digital devices, like  computers, tablets, smartphones, and sometimes even the entire network of the organization.  Elders’ digital devices are easy to hack with the help of social engineering. Cybercriminals hack  computers and mobile devices mostly for monetary gain. They steal confidential information  which they later use to drag money. They steal login credentials of victim’s social media account  and disseminate inappropriate content from their account to their family and friends. It is a very  common method to blackmail and extort a large sum of money from elders. 

Health Care Fraud: 

In this type of cybercrime, criminals usually offer free health products to elders but charge  insurance or other services. These products are not needed most of the time or may not be delivered  to victims. Sometimes fake or unnecessary tests are given to elders at community clubs, health  clubs, shopping malls, etc, and claim the bills to insurance companies. 

Cybersecurity Guide For Seniors: Prevention Measures

▪ Elder frauds are usually unreported all around the world due to personal embarrassment or unsure where to seek help for it.
Which is the main cause that prevents the seniors from receiving from the assistance of law enforcement agencies, protective health services providers, and other family members. Lack of reporting of elders’ crime encourages cybercriminals to target and victimize other elders of the society.

▪ Caregivers or family members should have close ties with their elders and educate them  regarding cyber offenses. They should build trust and allow elders to share their concerns, as they feel ashamed and have fear of being restricted to manage their financial resources  if they disclose or report cyber offenses against them. 

▪ Elders should contact their financial institutions to give them advice regarding cyber  threats and institutions themselves should initiate awareness programs regarding  cybercrime especially for elders and females, as they are appropriate and vulnerable targets  for cybercriminals. 

▪ Passwords are the most important defense against any cyber intrusion. It is important to  use stronger passwords that should include uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols. The length of the password should be at least 16 characters and do not use personal  information such as age, name, date of birth, family member’s name, pet’s name, or favorite  color, etc. 

▪ Never share your password with anyone, change them frequently and avoid using the same  passwords repeatedly. 

▪ Always check your surroundings before entering a password as shoulder surfing is a  common method for stealing passwords. 

▪ It is very important to install the latest antivirus software on devices and update them  regularly, as it is the first line of defense against many cyber attacks. 

▪ They should keep a backup of their important data to avoid any loss of data in case of  hacking and malware attacks. 

▪ Cyberstalking is a measure issue especially for elders and it can only be mitigated by  restricting oneself to share or disclosing personal and sensitive information on any social  media forums. 

▪ It is important to avoid intimating with strangers online and sending personal pieces of  information like pictures, personal videos, or details regarding their family, careers, etc.

▪ Always avoid installing unnecessary applications and needed one from third-party  websites. 

▪ It is important to keep credit cards and other sensitive credentials secure and always check  the legitimacy of the website before using your financial credentials. 

▪ As fat finger syndrome is very common among technology users, so always check the  spellings of websites carefully while typing address on URL.

▪ Avoid clicking any suspicious link send by unknown sources as cybercriminals drag  sensitive information by redirecting users to their rogue websites. 

▪ Don’t use public computers or anyone else system for sensitive emails, online banking, etc. 

Every individual of society especially elders need to have awareness regarding  cybersecurity in this digital era. Through awareness, we can mitigate the vulnerabilities of  individuals and organizations. It will not only reduce the number of cybercrime victims but  also other cyber breaches. 

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