The Internet is a vast sea of resources: it’s where we get our news, connect with friends, work, shop and conduct business. But as we increasingly depend on an interconnected world, we also have an important responsibility to practice safe internet behaviors.
The number of adults 65 and older using connected devices continues to rise, so does the population of individuals most at risk for cyber-crime. Consider these statistics affecting older Americans today:
- 67% of Americans aged 65 and above are reported to use the Internet.
- 42% of Americans 65 and older have reported owning smartphones.
- Only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse are brought to the attention of authorities.
- In 2010, for every incident of violent crime, three incidents of internet crime were committed against seniors.
- Older adults lost $2.9 billion to financial abuse, according to a 2011 MetLife study.
In recognition of Cyber Security Awareness Month, the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing is highlighting the importance of good internet “hygiene.” Here are our top five cyber safety tips:
1. Choosing a password
Passwords are important “keys” to give us access to specific resources on the Internet (like email or bank accounts), and to help let the websites we’re doing business with know who we are. It can sometimes be a challenge keeping track of passwords, but it’s important that we protect this information and avoid re-using them. Here are suggestions on creating a secure password:
- Focus on having a strong password rather than changing passwords regularly.
- Create passwords that are 12-15 characters: focus on length rather than complexity.
- Strategically place special characters or symbols in your password to avoid patterns rather than grouping them at the end.
- Using different passwords on each of your online accounts will prevent hackers from accessing additional accounts.
- Add another layer of protection, if available, such as finger prints or security questions.
Here are some additional tips on passwords from Wired Magazine.
2. Keep that antivirus software up to date!
Your antivirus company is doing its part to be a step ahead of hackers, but in order to get the best use of the software, stay up-to-date on your updates! Antivirus software can:
- Help to prevent people from hacking your computer, laptop, smartphone, and even, in some cases, your smart home device (like Amazon Alexa or Google Home).
- Alert you to websites and downloads that could be an entry point for suspicious software.
- Reduce the likelihood that malicious software is installed on your computer.
3. Use only trusted Wi-Fi resources
Who doesn’t like free Wi-Fi? Many of our mobile devices come with wireless internet capabilities to help us stay connected while we’re travelling and wherever we go--but be wary. Hackers also love free or less secure Wi-Fi networks because they can use tools to intercept your internet communications.
- Not all free Wi-Fi connections are created equal. Confirm that the business Wi-Fi connection you want to join belongs to the business you know and trust. If you aren’t sure, ask.
- Avoid conducting personal business on community devices such as public computers. Software may have been installed to track what you type and where you go on the Internet in an effort to steal your information.
- When in doubt, try to use your personal Wi-Fi, hotspot, or the network connection on your smartphone.
4. Google It! Yahoo It! Bing It!
Regardless of what search engine you use, make sure to use it to research an unfamiliar website before giving up your information. Oftentimes, hackers create a link that may appear, at first glance, to be a legitimate website to trick you in to giving up your personal data.
5. Safeguard your personal information
Personal information such as date of birth, social security numbers, bank account numbers, and passwords are like gold to nefarious hackers, so treat and protect them as such. Be wary of unsolicited phone calls and emails. Did you know that most banks are not allowed to ask you for passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs)? Asking for password/pin information is a breach of “terms of service.” Ask questions before providing personal information:
- Which websites have your personal information that you have provided?
- Who else can access your information?
- Be careful where you put your current or past information and dispose of everything as safely as possible (whether online or on paper).
The Internet is a lively, expansive world of information, resources, and experiences. As many more older adults increasingly find themselves online taking advantage of these conveniences and powerful tools, it’s important that we all use responsible and safe internet practices!
For more information download our Cyber Safety Toolkit.
The Piers Project
Through education, training, and the use of technologies that promote internet safety the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing facilitates greater awareness of cyber security issues affecting older adults. The Piers Project is funded by a gift from the estate of Ellie Piers to benefit the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing’s (CIW) ongoing mission of using technology to enhance wellbeing among older adults. Piers lived at Carlsbad By The Sea, a Front Porch retirement community in Carlsbad, CA.