The human factor is, most times, responsible for triggering a security vulnerability and providing the path for viruses to compromise an entire system.

The simple fact is that people are naturally curious, so they’re attracted to things they shouldn’t click on and they don’t always make the most rational decisions (me and you included).

It’s a behavior we can’t ignore, and it’s even more obvious in the case of our parents and grandparents, who are not as concerned with Internet security as younger Internet users (study by the Oxford Internet Institute and data from the Special Eurobarometer 423 on Cyber Security).

The annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion dollars [in 2011], a 12% increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008”

according to The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse, and

„Medicare and Medicaid fraud resulted in the highest average loss to victims ($38,263,136) followed by fraud by business and industry ($6,219,496), family, friends, and neighbors ($145,768), and fraud by strangers ($95,156).”

The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse

The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse

But the truth is that those figures have climbed dramatically in the past years.

Don’t let your parents go online unprotected

Now think of your parents, and how they deal with new technology. For some, it’s been relatively easy to start using the Internet, but for some, it’s been more challenging.

Truth is, they all want to understand it and use it to connect to your life as it unfolds online. They want to see the pictures you post on Facebook or Instagram, they want to be able to send you emails, they might seek medical advice on Google and maybe even pay some of their bills online.

The danger comes from the fact that their basic skills don’t shield them from online threats and viruses, because their knowledge of Internet security is close to nothing. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2013, 65% of Americans over 65 years of age own a computer and 58% also have an Internet subscription, and a large category of frauds and scams target them directly, according to the FBI.

In Europe, only 47% of those aged 55 (source: Special Eurobarometer 423 on Cyber Security) or over ever use the Internet, but the factors that make the elderly attractive for cyber-criminals remain the same:

  • Their excellent credit score or loan history
  • Their tendency to be trusting and polite with unknown individuals, traits which con artists can easily exploit
  • The fact that older Internet users are ashamed to report that they’ve been scammed or hacked because their family and friends might think less of them
  • The lack of knowledge about the tools and techniques that hackers use
  • Because they are less likely to change their settings or passwords
  • The tendency to be interested in medical advice, medical equipment and other types of products pertaining to this area.

A study by the Stanford Center on Longevity also states that

“Americans 65 and older are more likely to be targeted by fraudsters and more likely to lose money once targeted.”

The most common threats include identity theft, phishing schemes, credit card fraud, impostor scams, impersonation and many more. You can find more examples provided by the US National Council on Aging.

The same Council offers another compelling example:

„Most commonly, counterfeit drug scams operate on the Internet, where seniors increasingly go to find better prices on specialized medications. […]This scam is growing in popularity—since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s.”

So, as a savvy Internet user and their loving son or daughter, it is your responsibility to take the time and teach them about online security, so that both your parents and you can rest assured that there are layers of security that protect them against malicious exploits.

A quick guide to keeping your parents safe online

It shouldn’t be too difficult to teach your parents about information security in its most basic form. You should try to use as few technical terms as possible and try to find real-world equivalents of the situations you use as examples (do include plenty of those!). Here’s a simple guide to help you have “the talk”. 🙂

1. Explain what information security is, in their own language

Tech terms just sound like something you’re making up when talking to parents, so do your best to use examples and help them understand why keeping safe online is important.

Explain to your parents that their digital assets (bank account, personal information, etc.) need as much protection as their physical ones (house, car, wallet, etc.), except that, for the most part, they can’t ensure their digital belongings, so they should be extra careful with how they handle the information, without making them paranoid, of course. Or next time you’ll find the laptop unplugged and locked in the basement.

We recommend the following approach: cyber-criminals use different methods – instead of breaking into your home and stealing your physical things, they use a computer and run off with the money in your account and you may not even notice that it’s happening.

Also, keep in mind that your mom (or dad, for that matter), might be thrilled to discover online shopping and discount coupons, so it’ll be easy for malicious content to end up on their computer if they click the notorious „you’re our 1000000th customer!” banner scam. For this, we recommend telling them that they shouldn’t accept a gift from someone they don’t know or open an email from an unknown sender.

Helping them understand that the consequences of their online actions have as big of an impact as those they do in real life will give them a better perspective on how they can be affected by cyber-criminals. And remind them constantly that hackers don’t target only certain categories of Internet users, but extend the effects of their malicious tactics to as many people as they can reach.

You can sign them up for a free cybersecurity course delivered in their email once a week or, even easier, to one that delivers a funny yet informative cybersecurity tip every day.

2. Show them how they could get compromised

In order for them to get a better picture of how their computer could get infected and how their money could get stolen, offer some convincing examples:

  • Show them how clicking a malicious ad could infect their laptop
  • Show them how their devices could be compromised and expose them to a lot of inconveniences
  • Teach them about spam and how to organize their inbox (you can also use this guide about email security)
  • Advise them not to download anything suspicious
  • Warn them against installing new software on their computer without consulting you first. For this last part we also recommend installing Team Viewer. It will come in handy if something goes awry and you need to see what the situation is, so you can fix it.

A simple example is to tell them about ransomware: advise them to read this story about how someone’s mother became a victim of cyber-criminals and paid over $500 to rescue her data after her computer was infected with CryptoWall. That’s something they should remember!

3. Teach them to be vigilant

Be open and approachable about your parents’ questions and don’t talk in a condescending manner. It’s important for them to be vigilant online and to know how to react to different triggers that cyber-criminals might use (banners, links, spam, etc.).

Of course, remember to advise them against giving their personal information for any forms or contents they may come across online. You don’t want to worry them too much, but enough to be observant, while still enjoying Wikipedia, Facebook or other websites.

4. Indicate how simple safety features work

A good way to teach your parents about security features on their laptop is to show them how to store their passwords in a safe place and to set up a password for their computer.

When it comes to paying bills, show them what security symbols they should be looking for (SSL, the padlock symbol, etc.) when making a financial transaction. Teach them what alerts to look for when if the antivirus kicks in (you should install this right after the initial setup) or for signs of malware infection and assure them that they can give you a call anytime they have questions.

Offer them resources online they can read themselves, like this guide from Age UK.

5. Install a silent patching tool

Have you ever receive a phone call from your mom asking why Adobe or Java is asking her if she wants an update and what she should do about it? Well, there’s a way to prevent this type of calls from happening (we can’t say the same about other questions though 🙂 ). You need a tool that can patch the software silently on your parents’ computer, without asking for permission or filling the desktop with popups on start.

Remember that antivirus is a reactive solution when it comes to dealing with cyber attacks, but that’s just not enough to ensure protection. You’ll also need a tool that works silently to scan and filter outgoing and incoming Internet traffic. And you should also keep updated about new Internet scams and pass on the information to your mom and dad as well. Your parents’ financial security will be ensured and you will be more at ease knowing that they can browse the web safely.

Have your parents ever been hacked? What have you done so far to help them get protected against cyber attacks?

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