Older Americans, who grew up in the era of rotary-dial phones and black and white TV programming, may still be in the minority among Internet users.
They are a rapidly growing presence on the Web and are making their mark on social networking websites. As a result they are potential targets of cybercriminals – and need to learn how to best protect themselves online.
Like Internet users of all ages and levels of Web savvy, seniors can benefit from the national cyber security awareness campaign being conducted during October. The public-private initiative – Stop! Think! Connect! — spearheaded by the National Cyber Security Alliance, the Department of Homeland Security and companies like Verizon, is designed to get out the message that online safety is everyone’s responsibility.
More and more, older Americans are using social networking to connect with far-flung family and friends, sharing photos, home videos and personal messages. A Pew Research Center study report, for example, found that the number of Americans over the age of 74 using social networking sites quadrupled in less than two years – a much faster rate than reported for any other age group.
“The Internet has become a fast and easy way for people of all ages to access information and entertainment,” said Verizon network security expert Marcus Sachs. “Unfortunately, it’s also become an effective tool for crooks looking for easy access to personal information, such as social security numbers or bank account numbers and passwords.
“From kids to seniors, protecting yourself and your data online may be easier than most people realize. We want to make sure senior citizens are informed of some simple steps to protect themselves,” Sachs said.
Some steps, which all Internet users should take, are:
- Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed on your computer, and make sure it is updated frequently.
- Make sure your computer’s firewall is turned on. It is an effective way of blocking unauthorized access to your computer and sensitive information in your computer files.
- If you are using a wireless router for your home network, make sure it has adequate security. Verizon recommends the use of a minimum of WPA or WPA2 security encryption on home routers.
- Don’t get hooked by phishing schemes. Beware of links in emails to sites you don’t recognize; don’t ever provide personal information as a result of an email or pop-up; and remember that reputable businesses never ask for personal information via email or pop-ups.
- If online offers seem too good to be true, they probably are. Downloading software, music or videos offered as “free” may come at a high price – they might include malware or spyware that can infect your computer and steal personal information. Download files only from sites you know and trust.
- Beware of people you meet for the first time on social networking sites. Don’t reveal personal information about yourself or your friends and family in a way that may compromise their safety or identity. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings on the social networking sites you use and chose the appropriate options for you.
- Passwords, passwords, passwords. As recommended by the National Cyber Security Alliance, make your passwords “long and strong” by combining capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols. Separate passwords for separate accounts will also make things more difficult for cybercriminals.