October brings our focus to several prevention topics, including very important Breast Cancer Awareness. A lesser known, but still important prevention, is addressed through October’s National Cyber Security Month. Our first of three installments in our October Prevention Series focuses on cyber security tips for all ages, as well as some tips specifically for older adults and other people who are less computer-savvy. How safe are you, and how safe is your aging parent, when it comes to cyber security?

The Department of Homeland Security shares basic tips for every computer user, as well as for the more advanced user, and even some tips for “non-technical computer users”, like aging parents. They also share how to stay safe on social networking sites, which aging parents often use to see updates and pictures of their adult children and grandchildren. Also available at dhs.gov, tick through these items to avoid a cyber security breach:

Basic tips:

  • Never click on links in e-mails
  • Never open attachments
  • Do not give out personal information over the phone or through e-mail

More advanced tips:

  • Set secure passwords and don’t share them with anyone. Avoid using common words, phrases, or personal information and update regularly.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, anti-virus and other critical software up to date. Security updates and patches are available for free from major companies.
  • Verify the authenticity of requests from companies or individuals by contacting them directly. If you are asked to provide personal information via email, you can independently contact the company directly to verify this request.
  • Pay close attention to website URLs. Pay attention to the URLs of websites you visit. Malicious websites sometimes use a variation in common spelling or a different domain (for example, .com instead of .net) to deceive unsuspecting computer users.
  • For e-mail, turn off the option to automatically download attachments.
  • Be suspicious of unknown links or requests sent through email or text message. Do not click on unknown links or answer strange questions sent to your mobile device, regardless of who the sender appears to be.

Tips for staying safe on social networking sites:

  • Limit the amount of personal information you post – Do not post information that would make you vulnerable, such as your address or information about your schedule or routine.
  • Remember that the Internet is a public resource – only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing.
  • Be wary of strangers – The Internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives.
  • Be skeptical – Don’t believe everything you read online.
  • Evaluate your settings – Take advantage of a site’s privacy settings. The default settings for some sites may allow anyone to see your profile, but you can customize your settings to restrict access to only certain people.
  • Be wary of third-party applications – Third-party applications may provide entertainment or functionality, but use caution when deciding which applications to enable.
  • Use strong passwords – Protect your account with passwords that cannot easily be guessed.
  • Check privacy policies – Some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam.
  • Keep software, particularly your web browser, up to date – Install software updates so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities.
  • Use and maintain anti-virus software – Anti-virus software helps protect your computer against known viruses, so you may be able to detect and remove the virus before it can do any damage.

The FDIC is another credible resource, and their recommendations are specifically for safe online banking practices:

(1) Have computer security programs running and regularly updated to look for the latest threats.

Install anti-virus software to protect against malware (malicious software) that can steal information such as account numbers and passwords, and use a firewall to prevent unauthorized access to your computer.

(2) Be smart about where and how you connect to the Internet for banking or other communications involving sensitive personal information. 

Public Wi-Fi networks and computers at places such as libraries or hotel business centers can be risky if they don’t have up-to-date security software.

(3) Get to know standard Internet safety features.

For example, when banking or shopping online, look for a padlock symbol on a page (that means it is secure) and “https://” at the beginning of the Web address (signifying that the website is authentic and encrypts data during transmission).

(4) Ignore unsolicited emails asking you to open an attachment or click on a link if you’re not sure it’s who truly sent it and why.

Cybercriminals are good at creating fake emails that look legitimate, but can install malware.  Your best bet is to either ignore unsolicited requests to open attachments or files or to independently verify that the supposed source actually sent the email to you by making contact using a published email address or telephone number.

(5) Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.

A safe strategy is to ignore unsolicited requests for information, no matter how legitimate they appear, especially if they ask for information such as a Social Security number, bank account numbers and passwords.

(6) Use the most secure process you can when logging into financial accounts.

Create “strong” passwords that are hard to guess, change them regularly, and try not to use the same passwords or PINs (personal identification numbers) for several accounts.

(7) Be discreet when using social networking sites.

Criminals comb those sites looking for information such as someone’s place of birth, mother’s maiden name or a pet’s name, in case those details can help them guess or reset passwords for online accounts.

(8) Be careful when using smartphones and tablets. 

Don’t leave your mobile device unattended and use a device password or other method to control access if it’s stolen or lost.

(9) Parents and caregivers should include children in their cybersecurity planning. 

Talk with your child about being safe online, including the risks of sharing personal information with people they don’t know, and make sure the devices they use to connect to the Internet have up-to-date security.

(10) Small business owners should have policies and training for their employees on topics similar to those provided in this checklist for customers, plus other issues that are specific to the business.

For example, consider requiring more information beyond a password to gain access to your business’s network, and additional safety measures, such as requiring confirmation calls with your financial institution before certain electronic transfers are authorized.

DHS also posts weekly cyber risk updates to help you stay current, and both DHS and the FDIC share regular updates that you can subscribe to by e-mail. At a minimum, plan to work through these checklists at least annually yourself, and with your aging parent, tailored to their level of online activity. As it is National Cyber Security Month, October is a great time to start!

Cyber security in one way to help your aging loved one stay safe. Home care, whether it is a few hours per week or 12 hours per day, also promotes the safety and wellness of your aging loved one. Cooperative Home Care offers a free, no obligation in-home assessment so you can visualize how a customized home care plan can help you. Contact our Intake Nurse to schedule your free assessment, today!

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