Cybersafety for seniors: a worthwhile journey

31 Mar 2013

Cyber technology has developed dramatically in the last 20 years and the internet and other new communications technologies have infiltrated lives in ways which would not have been imagined only a few years ago. Australians are now communicating with government, business, family and friends, as well as shopping and banking, online. While many senior Australians may have been reluctant to venture into the cyber world initially, seniors are now the fastest growing online user group in the country.

Anyone who uses the internet is vulnerable to cyber security threats but the Committee found that seniors are particularly vulnerable for several reasons. Additionally, seniors are attractive targets for criminals because many seniors own substantial assets and have access to life savings and their superannuation. In many cases, seniors are looking for opportunities to invest their money, so they might be receptive to scams and fraudulent investment opportunities.

The Committee spoke to seniors who have enthusiastically embraced the internet and other communications technology, and who act safely online. However, the Committee also received a lot of evidence showing that there are many senior Australians who either are not using the internet at all, or are using it with caution, because they are afraid of becoming involved in cyber security issues. Additionally, many are now too embarrassed to admit to family and others that they have no knowledge of the internet and no idea how they would go about ‘getting online’. For these seniors, education and training will be their key to becoming cyber savvy and cyber safe.

Paradoxically, it is often the seniors who could most benefit from being online in their own home—that is, the geographically isolated or those who are housebound through disability or for other reasons—who have been left behind and are not yet online. Many of these seniors are hesitant to venture into the cyber world, if indeed they even knew how to do so.

The Committee found that there is a lot of help available for seniors who want to go online, particularly in the more populated parts of the country. Many seniors’ groups, public libraries and government departments around the nation are helping seniors start the journey towards being cyber savvy. Some seniors’ clubs are teaching computing with a cybersafety component and some also teach dedicated cybersafety courses. The Universities of the Third Age are experiencing very high demand for their computer courses. Public libraries around the nation are doing an impressive job of helping seniors to safely use email, smartphones, social networking and to access government sites and services. Over 2,000 Broadband for Seniors kiosks are located around the nation offering free internet access and training for seniors.

The Committee has made 13 recommendations in this unanimous report which should help improve cybersafety for senior Australians.

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