Silver Surfers Beware: Navigating the Perils of the Digital Age

Maintaining online account security is crucial, particularly for mature adults who may not be as familiar with the digital world. Knowledge-Based Authentication (KBA) plays a vital role in reinforcing this security, providing extra protection from online threats.

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Silver Surfers Beware: Navigating the Perils of the Digital Age
6 Min Read March 17th, 2024

The internet offers a wealth of information and connections, but adults over 50, especially those over 70, face unique challenges in this digital landscape. 

Maintaining the security of your online accounts has become more crucial than ever in the modern digital age. In the digital world, technology permeates every aspect of our lives. 

While embracing technology can be enriching, a rise in cybercrime targets this growing demographic due to several factors:

  • Limited Digital Literacy:  Many older adults lack the extensive digital experience of younger generations, and their adult children often don't explain these dangers. This can make them more susceptible to falling prey to online scams and social engineering tactics.
  • Financial Vulnerability:  Retirees often possess accumulated savings, making them attractive targets for financial fraudsters.

Common Cyber Dangers

  • Phishing Scams:  Deceptive emails or messages masquerading as legitimate sources (e.g., banks, government agencies) attempt to trick individuals into revealing personal information like passwords or account details. AARP reports that in 2021, over 80% of reported fraud cases involved phishing attempts. 
  • Malware and Ransomware:  Malicious software can infect devices through deceptive downloads or links. Malware can steal personal information, damage files, or even lock users out of their devices, demanding a ransom for access restoration.
  • Social Engineering:  Cybercriminals often employ manipulative tactics to gain trust and exploit victims' vulnerabilities. This can involve posing as authority figures or family members or offering seemingly helpful solutions.

Knowledge-Based Authentication (KBA)

As a defense mechanism, Knowledge-based Authentication (KBA) plays a crucial role in safeguarding online accounts. KBA challenges users with pre-selected questions based on personal information (e.g., birthdate, pet's name) only the legitimate account holder would know.

Understanding Knowing KBA

Many online platforms and services employ knowledge-based authentication, or KBA for short, as a security mechanism to confirm users' identities. 

By requesting additional information that only you should know, KBA provides more security to password-based authentication. Password authentication depends only on what you know—your password. This is how it usually operates: your knowledge-based authenticator service provider could ask you to respond to a series of security questions.

You'll likely get this prompt when you log in to a secure system or create an account. These inquiries evaluate your identification using private details that are not readily available to others. 

These questions could include the name of your first animal companion, the place of your birth, or your most cherished teacher when you were in school. Suppose you're wondering why KBA is beautiful. It's because it's easy to use and efficient. In that case, KBA helps authenticate users' identities more securely than passwords. 

To access your account, they would still need to answer the security questions correctly, even if someone were to hack or phish your password successfully. This means your account is safer as hackers might not know these knowledge-based details about you. 

Using KBA to Keep Your Online Self Safe

KBA is important for keeping your online identity safe. Here are easy tips for using it:

1. Choose Good Security Questions

When setting up KBA for your accounts, pick security questions that are hard for others to guess but easy for you to remember. Don't use questions where the answers can be found on your social media or through a quick internet search. Pick questions to which only you would know the answer, like your favorites or childhood memories.

2. Keep Your Answers Secret

Treat the answers to your security questions like your passwords. Don't share them with anyone. Make sure your answers aren't easy to guess. 

Use a password manager to encrypt and safely store your answers, keeping them away from prying eyes. A password manager software tool helps you store and organize your passwords securely. It creates strong, unique passwords for your online accounts and remembers them for you. This way, you only need to remember one master password to access all your other passwords within the manager. It enhances your online security by reducing the risk of using weak or repeated passwords across different sites.

3. Change Your Security Questions Often

Keep your account safe by regularly changing your security questions and their answers. This helps, especially if you think someone else might know your security information.

4. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Adding KBA is great, but turn on Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for even stronger safety. 2FA requires you to provide two types of proof before you can access your account, like your password and a code sent to your phone. Using 2FA with KBA makes it much harder for others to get into your accounts.

5. Remain Alert Against Phishing Attacks

Even with security precautions, you should still be alert for attempts to deceive you into disclosing your login credentials or sensitive information. 

Never give personal or account information to strangers who ask for sensitive information over the phone, in emails, or unsolicited texts.

6. Report Suspicious Behavior

Notify the relevant platform or service provider immediately if you discover suspicious behavior or unauthorized access to your accounts. Quick action can lessen the possibility of more illegal access and protect your digital identity from harm.

7. Learn About Cybersecurity

Remain current on the newest cybersecurity risks. Look for the best ways to safeguard your digital assets. Use online tools, such as blogs, forums, and seminars on cybersecurity, to educate yourself and keep one step ahead of hackers.

8. Regularly Monitor Your Accounts

Watch out for any indications of strange activity or unauthorized access to your online accounts. Keep a close eye on your transaction history, login activity, and account statements to spot any irregularities and, if needed, take the necessary action.

9. Protect Vital Information

Back up vital data, including files, documents, and images, to a secure location regularly, besides safeguarding your KBA accounts. This way, if a security breach or data loss occurs, this guarantees that you may retrieve your data. 

Importance of Cybersecurity Awareness

  • Staying Informed: Resources like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provide clear guidance on staying safe online. 
  • Healthy Skepticism: Approaching unsolicited emails, calls, or messages with caution is vital. Never click on suspicious links or attachments, and verify information directly with the supposed sender through trusted channels.
  • Strong Passwords: Using unique and complex passwords for different accounts and enabling two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security.
  • Keeping Software Updated: Regularly updating operating systems, browsers, and security software helps patch vulnerabilities that cybercriminals might exploit.

Helping Older Adults Stay Safe Online: Tips for Adult Children

The internet is full of benefits but can be tricky for seniors. Here's how adult children can help their parents stay safe online:

  • Talk Openly: Start conversations about online risks like scams and malware. Use simple language to explain these threats.
  • Teach Online Safety Basics: Help them learn to recognize suspicious emails, the need for strong passwords, and to avoid unknown links. Look for digital literacy classes aimed at seniors.
  • Secure Their Devices: Set up strong passwords and two-factor authentication. Keep their software up-to-date to protect against security risks.
  • Explain KBA: Make sure they understand not to share personal verification information.
  • Increase Privacy: Show them how to adjust their privacy settings on social media and other websites.
  • Be Careful with Financial Info: Warn them about sharing financial information online and tell them to only use secure, trusted websites.
  • Recognize Scams: Teach them about the tricks scammers use and practice recognizing these situations.
  • Consider Security Software: Think about adding security software to their devices for extra protection.
  • Check-in Regularly: Keep up with them to address any online safety concerns they might have.

Remember to be patient, respect their independence, and consider getting professional advice if needed. Together, you can make the internet a safer place for them.

While the digital world offers numerous benefits, mature adults, like everyone else, must be aware of the potential dangers lurking online. By exercising caution, staying informed about cyber threats, and utilizing security measures like KBA, individuals can navigate the web more safely and protect themselves from financial loss and emotional distress.

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About the Author

Jacob Thomas writes on health, wellness, and retirement topics, including aging, caregiving, insurance, and long-term care.

LTC News Contributor Jacob Thomas

Jacob Thomas

Contributor since August 10th, 2023

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