Cyberattacks and Seniors – How to Protect Vulnerable Users Online

July 20th, 2020
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Not every senior citizen fits the stereotype of lacking technical savvy. There are plenty of older folks surfing the web safely. But it’s also true that senior citizens are often a target for hackers and other bad guys online, and even if our own parents are self-sufficient, it’s safe to say we all know someone who “IT support” for their mom or dad. So what can we do to help those seniors who are at risk – and why do they make such a tempting target for cyberattacks?

Why target seniors?

What is it about older citizens that make them such hot targets for hackers? A number of factors come into play. First, unlike many younger users online, they may have savings built up over their lifetimes – and those net eggs are prime target for hackers to get a hold of. Now compound assets worth stealing with psychological factors. Perhaps older adults who haven’t spent much time online are easier to trick (and let’s face it – the manipulative writing phishing attacks and other cyber threats now use are skillful enough to trick even trained, internet-savvy professionals as well). Others may worry that any sign of vulnerability could convince their families they can’t live alone anymore, so hackers count on them not admitting when they’ve fallen for a scam.

These reasons also make it hard to track exactly how often older users are victims of cyberattacks. Numbers vary depending on sources, but the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center estimated that senior citizens reported more than 62,000 fraud complaints. Those complaints totaled $649 million.

There’s reason to be concerned, as much as we want to respect the independence of older family members. AARP reports that older Americans are particularly hard hit by financial fraud, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says that seniors are hit harder by fraud the older they get.

How do we protect older users from cyberattacks?

Fortunately, there are resources for seniors to help protect themselves, and to assist their loved ones in keeping them safe as well. For starters, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency has a list of tools to help older folks educate themselves on staying safe online.

We can also ensure seniors know the best practices we’d advise anyone spending time online to take to keep their information safe.

Strong passwords. It’s not just seniors who fall into the bad habit of reusing passwords or relying on the names and birthdates of grandchildren for their passwords. Make sure passwords aren’t easy to guess, make them complicated, and if they have trouble remembering all those passwords, use a secure password storage software to retain their logins and generate better passwords.

On top of this, add two-factor authentication when possible.

1. Think before you click.

As we’ve mentioned, cybercriminals have become extremely talented at creating convincing scams. While those old “Nigerian prince” emails still exist, the bad guys have become very proficient at impersonating businesses and creating a sense of urgency, which seniors may be susceptible. A healthy dose of skepticism, and knowing what to look for to identify a scam, are both key.

2. Be aware of what you share online.

Social media and other online communities have created rich online lives for everyone, seniors and younger folks alike. But bad actors can use information gleaned from social media posts – be they about going on vacation, family events, or other private information – to build better scams

3. Use an effective security solution.

Virtually every machine these days comes with some sort of built-in security, but just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s good. You’ll want effective antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spyware capabilities that are powerful but don’t impinge on the user’s ability to surf the web. It should run unobtrusively and only be noticeable when there is a problem – and should be capable of reacting to and isolating a problem before it takes hold.

4. Shop online safely.

Here’s a very specific risk area. We’re all shopping online more these days, and seniors, particularly those who may not be able to get out as much as before, or are staying home to stay safe, can find the freedom to shop without ever setting foot in a mall. But this comes with risks. Hackers have become masters of spoofing legitimate websites to steal shoppers’ information. Learn to look for tell-tale signs of a spoofed website, such as knowing when a URL doesn’t look right or is missing the “lock” icon indicating it is secure.

The AARP offers even more tips for seniors staying safe online here.

Help older relatives from afar

Sophos Home offers powerful at-home protection for seniors and everyone exploring the web. The same anti-malware security used to defend businesses around the world will also keep older at-home users safe. And if you have a senior in your life who isn’t technically savvy, Sophos Home also lets you manage the cybersecurity settings of their computer remotely. Maximize their safety without having to travel to their location or try to walk them through a complex setup over the phone.

Sophos Home doesn’t just keep you safer. It helps you keep the people you care about secure online as well.

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