Older People on the Internet: Keys to Safe Surfing

Digitalisation has greatly improved our daily lives but, at the same time, different problems have begun to surface, such as the digital divide, cyber-attacks and cyber-scams.

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Reading time: 4 min

Did you know that life expectancy in Spain reached 83.3 years in 2021? This means that we are living longer and longer. And thanks to the development of information and communications technology, we lead more and more connected lives. This presents society with the challenge of providing older people with safe internet surfing. 

The health crisis accelerated connectivity, which ceased to be a trend to become a reality: teleworking is now consolidated, and so is online commerce and entertainment, telemedicine, digital banking and the way we relate to our loved ones, remotely.

In 2021, as a result of the rise of remote activities, Spain became the most targeted country. According to data provided in its latest computer threat report, drafted by the cybersecurity company ESET, Spain suffered more than 51 billion desktop attacks, far more than the attacks unleashed on France (21 billion), Germany (19 billion) and Poland (18 billion). Bad data driven by the growth of teleworking across the globe.  

Older people on the internet: messages and news 

20% of Spain’s population, some nine and a half million people, are elderly. In the current scenario, the number of people over 65 who have gone digital has also grown. In its latest report on the digital divide, the Unión Democrática de Pensionistas y Jubilados de España (Democratic Union of Pensioners and Retired People of Spain), UDP, points out that the regular use of the Internet by this group of people has increased in recent years, from 32.7% in 2017 to 60% in 2021.   

The MayoresUDP Scale points to the exchange of “messages with family and friends” via WhatsApp or SMS as the main use of the internet by the elderly, with 85.1%, followed by 80.8% for people who use the internet to keep themselves well-informed. Other common activities are those related to banking and healthcare, or online shopping. However, it states that among “older, less educated and less affluent people” the various digital activities decrease significantly.   

Older people in cyber danger 

One of the most common complaints among the older population is the lack of technological skills and the need for face-to-face assistance or help with video conferencing, online shopping and banking. And in spite of everything, the elders have had to learn, in many cases, any way they could. Their lack of experience has made them a target for cybercriminals.  

Phishing is still one of the most common cyber scams. This is the impersonation of entities, such as the bank, through e-mails. Many of these messages include links to fraudulent websites or malicious file attachments that, when downloaded, will install malicious software, or malware, thus infecting the elderly person’s device.  

Another common digital scam is smishing, a type of hoax via SMS, WhatsApp or voice messages. In this case, cybercriminals once again pose as well-known companies such as parcel delivery companies, electricity or banking companies, or official bodies, which instil trust. Both text messages and voice messages are intended to obtain personal information such as passwords, phone numbers, banking information, etc.   

Finally, we can highlight a third danger that older people often face on the internet: online shopping. The creation of attractive fake online shops with fake products is the gateway to getting their victims’ money. Thus, through great offers or by copying the image of well-known brands, cybercriminals can also appropriate crucial information from our elders: passwords, personal data, etc.  

Keys to safe internet surfing for those in their 60s and older 

In order to solve the problems that the elderly have on the internet, the National Institute for Cybersecurity, INCIBE, part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation, has promoted a series of cybersecurity awareness initiatives to help them enjoy the internet safely.  This organisation aims to improve the digital skills of users over 60 years of age and their cyber-helpers or technological guides, with specific training materials that enable them to acquire the basic notions necessary to navigate the Internet with confidence safely. 

The Internet Security Office, OSI, has prepared a campaign called Senior Experience in which they remind us of a series of tips that we can pass on to our elders so that they themselves can learn to identify the risks that exist on the Internet. To identify risks such as fake offers and scams, to identify reliable shopping websites, to use secure payment methods. 

In addition to these tips, we must also teach older people that the best cybersecurity tool is themselves. For example, we should talk to them about the need to keep their devices’ operating systems and antivirus software up to date, activate two-step verification systems whenever possible, always opt for strong passwords, not give out personal information without confirming who you are giving it to, and be wary of certain types of emails where the sender or the purpose of the message is unclear. 

If we know how older people surf the internet and the kind of dangers they are exposed to, we can help them to surf more safely, to be independent in the digital environment and to enjoy healthy ageing


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