For the past year, Canadians have worried about the health and safety of their loved ones. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the way people live their lives, we must continue to protect our most vulnerable – the senior population. With strict isolation measures in place for many months now, seniors have largely been unable to leave their homes and have been forced to learn new ways of conducting everyday business online, like banking, doctors’ appointments and connecting with loved ones.
For many seniors, this is a big shift. This transition is not only challenging because technology can be intimidating for some older adults, but because seniors are also vulnerable to scams and cyberattacks online. In addition to worrying about keeping seniors safe from COVID-19, Canadians must also be thinking about keeping them safe from the cyber threats that lurk on the internet.
Here’s how you can help the seniors in your life stay safe and secure online during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
Implement password protection across all devices
Make sure the devices your parents, grandparents and elderly friends and family are using are protected with passwords. While it may seem obvious, even a simple four-digit password required to open and access their phones and tablets adds an extra layer of protection. Remind them to never share their passwords with any one and if they accidentally do, teach them how to change their passwords. Accidents like leaving a device behind in a public place or having a device stolen are common and you must prepare them for the worst-case scenario: their private device ending up in the wrong hands.
Be sure to strongly encourage seniors to have different passwords for all the applications and programs they use on devices and computers, especially financial, health and banking applications.
Educate seniors on the signs of scams
There has been an exponential rise in phishing attacks during the last year. Talk to your seniors about how to identify a fraud attempt and make sure they are equipped to spot the most basic ones. Encourage them to seek a second opinion if an email looks suspicious or if a message asks them to take urgent action to solve a problem – particularly if it’s related to their bank accounts or other sensitive information. It is also worth going over a senior’s internet communications over the last six months with them, just in case a suspicious relationship has already developed.
Be wary of what is shared online
Social media platforms like Facebook are important to help seniors feel a sense of connection while physically isolated, as it helps them keep in touch with their distanced loved ones. As they’re likely using social media more frequently, it’s important to remind them not to share personal information like their address, date of birth, health information or passwords on social media. Make sure they know the difference between public posts and private messaging. When private messaging someone directly, they should opt for calling that person on the phone if they need to share sensitive information.
Secure their internet connection
Whether their home router was installed years ago or just recently, you should ask your senior loved ones to change the password on the router. This can be a slightly more involved task, but default passwords on routers (and other “internet of things” home devices like an internet connected TV) are well known to threat actors. Helping seniors change from the default password to something unique is very important.
If your senior is in residential accommodation and logs onto a WiFi connection provided by the establishment – free or otherwise – take it one step further and help them set up a VPN (virtual private network) on their devices so their internet activity stays private. On the note of free WiFi, advise seniors to never use it when conducting sensitive internet communications, especially financial transactions. Free public WiFi in a coffee shop or airport does not allow for a secure connection and information can be easily compromised through these networks.
While we’ve all had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, it’s important to remember how overwhelming these changes can feel for seniors. While a lot of these recommendations may seem straightforward, they are important practices that will not only help keep your seniors safe, but also their friends and extended family.
Check organization’s cybersecurity policies
David Masson is the Director of Enterprise Security for Darktrace.
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