In 2009, studies revealed that there were 17.5 million Internet users that were aged 65 or more. Since then the number most likely increased considerably and continues to do so, especially with the rise of social media networks and other sites that may present an interest to senior citizens.
While many people try to teach their parents and grandparents how to surf the web, most neglect to mention that there are some basic practices that need to be taken into consideration to make sure they don’t end up installing malware or handing out sensitive pieces of information to cybercriminals or con artists.
During my short experience as a teacher, I’ve taught around 200 seniors on how to use a computer and surf the web without having to call their children every five minutes to say they had to unplug the computer from the wall socket because something strange (the screensaver) appeared on the screen.
Some of my students were more than 50 years old and before teaching them anything they didn’t even know how to hold a mouse (they poked it with their finger like it was alive to make it move around), but with patience and perseverance anything can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.
I’ve split the guide into different sections, each highlighting the importance of a certain element and the way it should be handled.
Before we get started, we’ll assume that the computer is set up to include an operating system, a basic anti-virus solution, an instant messaging app, a web browser and all the other things needed to surf the web.
Also, while this guide is mainly addressed to Windows users, some of the safety tips can also be taken into consideration by those who prefer other platforms. The anti-virus application
A security solution is highly important and this doesn’t only apply to those users who didn’t grow up surrounded by technology and all sorts of fancy gadgets. The brand doesn’t really matter that much, but there are certain aspects that have to be taken into consideration.
First of all, we’ll leave out all the scandals that surround security solutions and assume that any commercial product provided by a famous brand, even if it’s a free one, will do the task.
The only problems with certain security products is that they fail to update the virus definition database without popping up a warning window, and some of them keep bugging the user to make certain decisions.
Now, I’m not saying that you should look for a solution that does all this by default, instead, set them up in a way to make sure all the threats are automatically quarantined or deleted and make sure that the updates are done automatically. Also, if using free products, choose something that doesn’t bombard you with advertisements every five minutes. The web browser
I’m not going to advertise a certain browser since all of them have their highs and lows, but products from trusted vendors such as Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Apple or Opera are the main ones recommended.
A browser usually has a lot of functions and buttons, and many people tend to insist on teaching the elderly a lot of things that are usually useless in everyday tasks.
In reality, there are only a handful of elements that really count, but before we get to them, there is a very important browser setting that must always be enabled: the security feature that blocks pop-up windows. The feature is usually active by default, but it’s a wise thing to check.
While teaching someone how to use a computer mainly for browsing the Internet, one of the worst things you can do is to use a lot of keyboard shortcuts or other combinations that may seem easy to someone who’s a tech savvy person.
For instance, it may seem easier to undo something instead of starting the whole process from the top, but in reality, for someone that hasn’t used a computer much, it’s much easier to just start from the beginning.
Elderly people are much more patient (at least most of them) and they’ll have no problem starting something all over again, instead of performing some “clever” task that may baffle them.
This being said, there are only three major elements that someone needs to master in order to surf the web: the browser’s address bar, the Home button and the big X in the top right corner that closes a window.
The Back button may also be useful sometimes, but in most scenarios, a senior will find it easier to return to the homepage, instead of getting entangled in a labyrinth of pages.
So, they want to open a website to get information on something. You teach them to type in the site’s address and that’s about it. Easily accessible shortcuts or bookmarks for locations that are visited more often are highly recommended, but the use of tabs can be confusing for someone that’s just learning the basics.
The use and understanding of the functionality provided by the X button that closes a window is important because a novice user must be instructed to utilize it whenever he finds himself (herself) on a page that advertises all sorts of products.
I’ll get back to this topic later, but we all know that many sites, even the more trusted ones, often serve their visitors with a pop-up window that may only feature an advertisement.
By clicking the elements it contains, someone who isn’t used to these practices can find himself (herself) in the situation where a lot of windows cover the screen, apparently being left with no other choice than to click on the image that says “buy a genuine Rolex watch for only $99.99.”
While social media networks are usually easy to navigate, not leaving much room for visual settings and the way a page’s elements are laid out, an appropriate email service is highly important.
There are two main options here: you either use an email client, or the services offered by a trusted provider such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail.
However, while choosing the email service, you have to make sure that its interface is offered in a language that the user is familiar with.
Most people may understand English, but if your grandfather could manage better using an interface that’s translated to Russian, than that’s the language that must be chosen. This rule also applies to the browser’s interface and the social network’s interface, assuming you have this option. Online safety
Clicking and typing are things that can be easily learned in a matter of a few days, but online safety practices are just as important as knowing how to access your online accounts.
Social engineering is one of the most common malicious practices used by cybercriminals to dupe unsuspecting people into handing over sensitive information and unfortunately, this doesn’t only happen online, but also on the phone or even in a face-to-face situation.
These days it’s difficult to determine whether the phone calls or emails you receive are legitimate, but the rule of thumb says that if they request information such as social security numbers, passwords, credit card details, it’s very likely that you’re being targeted by crooks.
In many situations, crooks call or send emails claiming that there’s something wrong with the computer and that it needs urgent fixing. While technology may have evolved a great deal, unless you have a contract with a company that permanently monitors your computer for issues (which is very unlikely) no one can actually know of a problem.
In fact, the best way to make sure you don’t fall for a scam is to ignore emails that request sensitive data and hang up if someone calls you on the phone and does so. If you suspect that the phone call may be legitimate, look up the company’s number and call them back yourself, but always use contact information from an objective source instead of the one provided by the caller.
Malware-spreading campaigns, phishing expeditions and basically every other malicious scheme utilized by cybercriminals starts with social engineering, so if you know how to protect yourself from manipulation attempts you should be safe in most situations.
While browsing the Internet, we come across a large number of sites and banners that advertise products and services. Many of them may be legitimate, especially if they’re ads from Google, but a number of them may also be cleverly set up by crooks to attract attention to their scams.
Again, as a rule of thumb, offers that are too good to be true, usually are. “Make money from home” and “Earn easy money” sites are in 99% of the cases malevolent plots that sooner or later start demanding enrolment taxes and other fees.
Beware of free giveaways. Except for the giveaways launched by Softpedia, I’ve rarely come across a legitimate campaign.
A guide can’t cover all the tiny details, but the information presented above should be a starting point to anyone (and I know there are a lot of people out there) who want to teach their parents or grandparents the proper ways to safely surf the web.
Also, from my short experience I’ve learned that it’s not enough to simply explain these concepts. A pen and a piece of paper can do wonders. Make sure to draw the ENTER
button when it needs to be pressed, write down all the passwords and all the necessary steps needed to perform a certain action.