Older Americans, who grew up in the era of rotary-dial phones and black and white TV programming, may still be in the minority among Internet users. But they are a rapidly growing presence on the Web and are making their mark on social networking websites. As a result they are potential targets of cybercriminals - and need to learn how to best protect themselves online.
Like Internet users of all ages and levels of Web savvy, seniors can benefit from the national cyber security awareness campaign being conducted during October. The public-private initiative - Stop! Think! Connect! - spearheaded by the National Cyber Security Alliance, the Department of Homeland Security and companies like Verizon, is designed to get out the message that online safety is everyone's responsibility.
More and more, older Americans are using social networking to connect with far-flung family and friends, sharing photos, home videos and personal messages. A Pew Research Center study report, for example, found that the number of Americans over the age of 74 using social networking sites quadrupled in less than two years - a much faster rate than reported for any other age group.
"The Internet has become a fast and easy way for people of all ages to access information and entertainment," said Verizon network security expert Marcus Sachs. "Unfortunately, it's also become an effective tool for crooks looking for easy access to personal information, such as social security numbers or bank account numbers and passwords.
"From kids to seniors, protecting yourself and your data online may be easier than most people realize. We want to make sure senior citizens are informed of some simple steps to protect themselves," Sachs said.
Some steps, which all Internet users should take, are:
- Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed on your computer, and make sure it is updated frequently.
- Make sure your computer's firewall is turned on. It is an effective way of blocking unauthorized access to your computer and sensitive information in your computer files.
- If you are using a wireless router for your home network, make sure it has adequate security. Verizon recommends the use of a minimum of WPA or WPA2 security encryption on home routers.
- Don't get hooked by phishing schemes. Beware of links in emails to sites you don't recognize; don't ever provide personal information as a result of an email or pop-up; and remember that reputable businesses never ask for personal information via email or pop-ups.
- If online offers seem too good to be true, they probably are. Downloading software, music or videos offered as "free" may come at a high price - they might include malware or spyware that can infect your computer and steal personal information. Download files only from sites you know and trust.
- Beware of people you meet for the first time on social networking sites. Don't reveal personal information about yourself or your friends and family in a way that may compromise their safety or identity. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings on the social networking sites you use and chose the appropriate options for you.
- Passwords, passwords, passwords. As recommended by the National Cyber Security Alliance, make your passwords "long and strong" by combining capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols. Separate passwords for separate accounts will also make things more difficult for cybercriminals.
Additional tips and excerpts from a pamphlet created for seniors are available at the Verizon Parental Control Center. Nationally known identity-theft expert Robert Siciliano, an online safety blogger for Verizon partner McAfee, also offers his guidance for seniors from the Verizon@home site.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, NASDAQ:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a global leader in delivering broadband and other wireless and wireline communications services to consumer, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, with more than 106 million total connections nationwide. Verizon also provides converged communications, information and entertainment services over America's most advanced fiber-optic network, and delivers integrated business solutions to customers in more than 150 countries, including all of the Fortune 500. A Dow 30 company, Verizon employs a diverse workforce of nearly 196,000 and last year generated consolidated revenues of $106.6 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.