Security 101 11-24-2021

Cybersecurity for Seniors – 7 Steps to Update Your Parents’ Security This Thanksgiving

Dean Coclin

Thanksgiving dinner inevitably comes with some awkward family conversations, but one conversation you may want to breach with older family members is that of their cybersecurity. Seniors are frequently targeted for phishing scams and cyberattacks because they are often vulnerable. In fact, according to data collected by the FBI, one in four cybercrime complaints in 2020 were from victims over age 60. This resulted in about $1 billion in losses, which has increased 30% since previous years.

If you’re the one everyone in the family goes to for tech support, you’ll save yourself time in the long run by teaching them good security habits now. If family members face a breach, they will need your help to solve it. By then, they could face financial and data loss. It’s better to prevent the crisis now.

There’s never been a better time to help seniors protect themselves online. Even if seniors use highly secure devices and have antivirus software installed, one poor password could be their downfall. Although cybersecurity for seniors can seem overwhelming, most attacks can be prevented with a few simple steps and education.

Here are seven easy steps to help set up cybersecurity for seniors:

  1. Help them choose strong passwords
  2. Remind seniors to lock their devices and accounts just like they would lock their front door. Just like different locks, some passwords are more effective than others. If devices are ever lost or stolen, strong passwords ensure they cannot be accessed. Read DigiCert’s top tips on creating strong passwords in a previous post.

    You may also want to recommend a password manager, depending on how many passwords your senior family members must manage. Password managers simplify what they must remember; instead of a different password for everything, you only need to one secure password to log on, and the manager can generate secure passwords for everything else. Password managers can’t be used for everything, but they will simplify any online logins. Password managers can be used across multiple devices and passwords can also be shared with others, so you could see your parents’ passwords in your own account.

  3. Teach them to secure their passwords
  4. Additionally, teach seniors not to leave passwords written down lying around their computer. While many seniors want to write down their passwords to help their memory, it can also help an attacker log in. If they do insist on writing down passwords, at least encourage them not to write a sticky note attached to their desktop. They should write down passwords in a secure location that they can remember, and only you and they know about.

  5. Teach them to avoid phishing
  6. Seniors are especially prone to scam emails, phone calls and social media accounts. Teach them not to click on links or download anything if there is any doubt about its legitimacy. Instead, encourage seniors to go directly to the webpage or account and contact customer support directly.

    Another easy way to spot phishing is with typos or incorrect grammar. If Amazon is spelled “amzon.com” in the email it’s a good sign it’s a phishing attempt. Additionally, if an email has a sense of urgency, is asking for money or is reporting a problem with a bank account or taxes, make sure seniors think twice before responding. The IRS will never email, text or send a social media message to consumers, and they will never call to demand immediate payment.

    If there’s one thing to remember about phishing, it’s that if they have any doubt about a message, they should delete it or reach out directly to the company.

  7. Install a good antivirus program
  8. Malware, or any program that could harm your computer, is one of the most common cybersecurity threats for seniors. Malware can often infect your device without you knowing, and they range in consequence from serious threats to minor annoyances. A good antivirus program can block any type of malware in real time. Some anti-virus programs may also come with password managers, anti-phishing tools, VPNs and more. Discuss with seniors which antivirus program is right for them.

  9. Check websites for legitimacy
  10. When shopping online or browsing social media, seniors may be especially vulnerable to fake sites or fake accounts. Before sharing any information or purchasing from a website, seniors should check for trust indicators. These can include:

    • A lock in the address bar

    • https protocol enabled

    • Site seals like the Norton or DigiCert site seal

    • A privacy statement

    • Contact information for the business

    If there is any doubt, don’t make a purchase from that site or enter in your information. For instance, if deals are too good to be true, they probably aren’t real. For more information, read our guide on how to identify fake websites.

    What a Secure and Not Secure site looks like in Chrome on desktop.

    Figure 2: What a Secure and Not Secure site looks like in Chrome on desktop.

  11. Set updates to install automatically
  12. Software updates help protect against current vulnerabilities. Developers often send updates to protect against known weaknesses, so it’s wise to install them right away before an attacker can take advantage of them. You can set computers and devices to automatically install software updates, which is the easiest way to keep programs up to date. Furthermore, updates from popup ads or emails could actually be malware. So setting updates to install automatically will mean they don’t need to click on any update requests that could contain malware.

  13. Remind them to log out
  14. Simply logging out of accounts and devices can help protect seniors’ security. Remind them that they should never stay logged into account on public computers, like those at the library. Even at home they may want to log out each time. This is where having a password manager will make it easier for them to log in each time.

    So this holiday season when your elderly relatives ask you for computer help, take the time to ensure they are following web security best practices as well. Even if the risks are relatively low, cyberattacks have severe consequences. Teaching seniors now to practice good security habits will save time and headache down the line.

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