It’s never been more important for older people to act on cyber security

This blog was contributed by Peter Wilson, Deputy Director for The Office for Security and Counter Terrorism and Head of Unit for RICU (Research Information and Communications Unit), in the Home Office. 

As we spend more and more time online – emailing friends, Skyping family, banking online – we need to think more about cyber security. It’s second nature for us to lock our doors when we go out and about – so why don’t we always take the same approaches to online security? A security breach online is not just something that happens to big businesses or celebrities. It can happen to anyone. In fact, recent reports suggest older people are increasingly at risk of cyber fraud, with more than a million older people duped by email scammers in the UK.

Research conducted by Ipsos MORI shows some older people are getting better at protecting themselves online. It suggests that 83 per cent of those aged 55 plus are confident about their online security when using the internet, and they are also more likely to adopt the online behaviours that can help protect them from cyber threats.

For starters, only one per cent would download files or open links when they are unsure of the content on their laptops or desktops, in contrast to eight per cent of those aged 18-34. More than half will leave on the in-built security settings on a device, including auto update facilities (60%), which include crucial security upgrades to combat hackers and viruses.

But while older people are diligent in some regards, when a software update is required to be downloaded, they are less likely to do this as soon as it becomes available (38%) as opposed to those aged 35-44 (49%) or 18-34 (44%). Over a fifth (21%) say they avoid updating their software because they think it might cause errors with other programmes or server settings on their laptop or desktop computer, and 20 per cent are uncomfortable that it will change the look and feel of the device. And yet, as recent high profile incidents have shown, not downloading software and app updates as soon as they’re available can put you at considerable risk.

Creating strong and secure passwords is another crucial step to mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of a hack. The official advice from the Cyber Aware campaign – which draws on technical expertise from the National Cyber Security Centre , part of the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) –   is to use three random words, which a third of over 55s (34%) already do.

There’s no doubt that the internet has transformed the lives of older generations, from making managing day to day finances more accessible, to online shopping and staying connected with loved ones across the globe. However, in order to ensure this remains a positive experience, we recommend taking the following simple, protective steps.

Key actions to prioritise:

  • Install the latest software and app updates – These contain vital security upgrades which help protect your devices from viruses and hackers.
  • Use a strong, separate password for your email account – Hackers can use your email to take control of many of your personal and business accounts. A good way to create a strong and memorable password is to use three random words or numbers, which are easy for you to remember, but difficult for other people to guess.

We’d also recommend:

  • Securing your tablet or smartphone with a screen lock – this provides an extra layer of security to your device.
  • Always backing up your most important data – safeguard your most important data such as your photos and key documents by backing them up to an external hard drive or a cloud-based storage system.
  • Not using public Wi-Fi to transfer sensitive information such as card details – hackers can set-up fake WiFi hotspots, which might enable them to intercept sensitive information you are transferring online.

These easy and free steps can go a long way to improving your online security– and keeping you happy and confident online. Find out more information about Cyber Aware

You can also read Age UK’s advice in their ‘Internet Security’ guide


Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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