Summer holidays are a time for lazing about, seeing loved ones and — if your break was anything like mine — solving your parents’ latest tech quandaries.
If you’re often leant on for ‘tech support’ in your family, it can sometimes feel like you’d rather throw out all your parents’ devices than show them how to log onto online banking one. more. time. Or more worryingly, help them change all their passwords (I mean their one password they use for everything) after they’ve clicked on something dodgy.
It’s a sentiment Moises Sanabria hears a lot, as the head of not-for-profit identity and cyber support service IDCARE’s Identity Security Operations Centre.
But ditching their devices isn’t going to help them, he says, particularly with more and more services moving online.
Our parents have to learn to embrace technology, and the good news is there’s some basic things we can do to help set them up and keep them secure.
While you might not be able to implement everything below all at once, each is a step towards making your parents safer online.
Get parents interested
One of the biggest hurdles can sometimes be getting them interested in using technology in the first place, says Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.
The least represented population online are those over the age of 60.
She faced this problem with her own father who wouldn’t deign to use a computer. So for his 80th birthday she and her sister built him a tablet full of family photos, his favourite music, handpicked apps that they knew he would enjoy, like crossword puzzles, and showed him how to search online.
Seniors also have a fear of being scammed or running into security issues, Ms Inman Grant says, even when doing something online is the safer option.
“So sometimes it’s having that conversation: ‘Grandma, it’s actually safer to online bank than it is to keep all of your life savings under your pillowcase and to walk across to the bank,'” she says.
Privacy settings is also another topic Ms Inman Grant recommends talking them through, so they can share things with family and friends and not the whole world.
“We need them to be part of the online world and we want them to do it as safely and securely as possible.”
Teach your parents to take everything they receive with a grain of salt
Older generations tend to be more trusting.
“They respect a whole bunch of organisations that they’ve grown up with,” Mr Sanabria says.
So when they receive an unsolicited email (phishing), text message (smishing) or phone call purporting to be from an organisation they’re familiar with, they’re more likely to believe it.
Here’s what he recommends you advise them to do:
- Don’t interact or respond to the contact directly, even if it sounds plausible. Don’t click on any links and if it’s someone calling you out of the blue, tell them you can’t speak to them at the moment and hang up the phone.
- Check with the organisation to see if the contact was from them. Get their number from a trusted source, take some time to reflect and then call them when you’re not feeling under pressure.
- Configure their email account so most phishing emails will get picked up by their spam filter.
- Remind your parents that organisations don’t call you or email you asking for your personal details.
One way they can keep informed of the latest scams is by subscribing to IDCARE’s free newsletter, which shares what scams their case managers have noticed are trending in the last month.
Keep their tech up-to-date
While your parents may not have the latest and greatest technology, it’s important that the devices they’re using can receive security updates and are running the latest versions of their operating, browser and antivirus software.
For Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad there is no antivirus protection and the best way to protect your parents is to keep their apps updated, Mr Sanabria says.
You can get antivirus software for Android devices.
When your parents are wanting to download an app for their device, encourage them to read the reviews of the app before they do so to make sure they’re not downloading a malicious app that could be harvesting their data.
Never allow remote access to their devices
“Remote access is the most dangerous tool because [scammers] put up screens that the individual or your parents are seeing, and then behind there all the malicious activity is occurring,” Mr Sanabria says.
Most new devices are preset to allow remote access, so make sure you educate your parents never to turn it on or download an app that allows it.
You can also set up their devices so that even if a scammer did get in, there’s certain things they wouldn’t be able to access. For example, enabling multi-factor authentication for their banking and other accounts.
Mr Sanabria also recommends cleaning their devices and email accounts so there’s no unnecessary data sitting there “at rest”.
This could include scanned copies of their passports or driver’s licenses which can be a real honeypot for criminals.
“[The] majority of the problems that exist in Australia is that these numbers are for life,” Mr Sanabria says.
Even if the document has expired, someone could still use the number to go online and pretend to be you.
Set them up with a password manager
Ms Inman Grant recommends teaching your parents how to create strong passwords for their various accounts.
This includes not using birthdays or the names of family members, pets or number sequences like 12345 that can be easily guessed.
Ideally set them up with a password manager, Mr Sanabria says, which will mean they’ll only have to remember one master password (which they should still regularly change) which will keep all their other passwords safe.
And even if this password gets breached, their accounts still require multi-factor authentication as an additional security measure.
Some final safety tips
If your parents’ heads (or yours) haven’t exploded by this point, here are some final safety tips to pass on to them from Mr Sanabria:
- Avoid using public computers or public free wi-fi for sensitive activities such as banking.
- Limit the amount of personal information you publish online.
- Only pay online using a secure payment service. Look for ‘https’ at the start of the URL, and a closed padlock symbol.
Can someone else do this for them?
If you don’t live close to your parents, or tech support isn’t something you’re comfortable providing, here are some other options:
- Could other family members, even better a grandchild if they’re old enough, help your parents instead of you? Bonus: they’re likely to be more patient than you are.
- The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has partnered with the Good Things Foundation Australia to build a network of 3,000 community organisations that teach digital skills to older Australians face to face. They can bring in their device and get help in real life.
- There’s also many paid options out there, from computer technicians that can go to your parents’ home, through to technology companies that offer subscriptions for both remote (call or chat) and in-person help.
Where can you and your parents go to learn more?
There are plenty of free resources you or your parents can access to help them become more comfortable online:
And once you’ve helped your parents stay safe online, make sure you implement these same tips for yourself as well.
Suzannah Lyons is a freelance science journalist. She previously worked for ABC Science, ABC Open, ABC Emergency and Catalyst. You can follow her on Twitter at @ZtheTrain.
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