The term ‘Silver Surfer’ is widely used in the UK, Australia, and a number of other English-speaking countries to describe people over the age of 50 who use the internet on a regular basis.
The classic stereotype of a Silver Surfer is someone’s Nan making embarrassing posts on Facebook and having a big list of passwords stuck up on the wall next to her computer.
This is frankly a rather offensive stereotype.
Plenty of people who fall into the definition of a Silver Surfer will be well-versed at using computers either as part of their job or just as part of everyday life.
And while so much of the online world is focused at young people, Silver Surfers actually make a huge share of the online audience.
In 2017, Ofcom published its Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report which revealed some striking facts about the increase in internet use by older people. Among other things, it found that:
- 44% of over 75’s in the UK are online.
- More than a quarter of over-75s use a tablet computer.
- 87% of internet users over 65 years old have a Facebook account.
- Over-65s spend 15 hours online each week.
Silver Surfer internet use is booming. But that doesn’t mean that all the old stereotypes are entirely wrong.
According to Ofcom, 20% of over 65’s lack confidence online, compared to an overall average of just 7%. The same percentage (20%) were not confident about protecting their personal data online too.
This might explain why 16% of over 55’s admit to ‘never’ considering the data or privacy implications when posting photos online. This is the highest proportion of any age groups.
There could be a number of reasons for this.
A high proportion of internet users over 75 years old (21%) are new to the internet, having only gone online in the last five years. More than half of this same age group (51%) can also be classified as ‘narrow’ internet users – Ofcom defines this as meaning that they only do a very limited number of activities online.
Yet, despite this data, the internet has so much to offer older people.
Online shopping and banking saves them from having to go into town to get things they need, social media and videoconferencing are great for staying in touch with friends and family or meeting new people, and the huge range of learning resources offer an outlet from a mundane retirement filled with daytime TV and crossword puzzles.
Yet, there are far too few guides out there to help Silver Surfers get the most out of the internet.
An all-encompassing guide would be a huge undertaking, so we are going to focus this guide on our specialism: online safety and security. We hope to help Silver Surfers become more confident and aware of online security risks and how to tackle them.
Having read this guide and taken some of our advice on board, it is our firm belief that Silver Surfers of all ages will have the information and tools at their disposal to dive into the online world safe in the knowledge that their personal data and their devices are protected.
Top 8 Tips
There is a lot of information in this guide and we don’t expect everything we are going to share with you to stick.
But if you take nothing else away from this guide, these are our Top 8 Online Safety Tips for Silver Surfers:
- Be aware of potential risks and keep your wits about you.
- Be sure to download an anti-virus program and keep it updated.
- Always use a VPN when going online, especially when using public Wi-Fi networks.
- Use an ad-blocker to stop annoying adverts and the risk of scams.
- Always use secure passwords – if you have problems remembering them, invest in a password manager.
- When shopping and banking online, take precautions to protect yourself and your data.
- Be aware of phishing scams and avoid clicking on emails you aren’t sure of.
- Never share personal information online.
Part 1: OAPs and the internet
In the opening section of this guide, we will take a closer look at exactly how Silver Surfers interact with the internet.
We will examine how they go online and look at the advantages and disadvantages of different types of devices. And we will also discuss in more detail what Silver Surfers tend to do while they are online and where the internet offers real advantages to older people.
Silver Surfer Favourite Devices
There are a lot of advantages for older users in using a desktop computer.
A desktop can have a larger keyboard and a larger screen which can make using the internet easier for older people who might have poor eyesight or arthritis. A desktop can also be set up on a specialist desk and chair which allows older people to sit comfortably to use the internet.
A lot of older people prefer their devices to be in a defined space and this demographic is far less likely to want to use the internet around the house.
A lot of pensioners opt for having a laptop computer.
Its portability means they can use it anywhere in the house and are not tied to a desk. Most laptops operate on Windows which is the interface the majority of older users will be familiar with. The main downsides to laptops for older people are that they tend to have smaller screens and smaller keyboards.
They can also be expensive. A popular choice is a Chromebook, in part because of its low price but also because it comes with relatively low security risks.
More and more people of all ages are using a smartphone to go online these days and older internet users are no exception.
According to Ofcom, around 15% of over-75’s now use a smartphone.
The touchscreen interface is appealing but the small screen and fiddly keyboards can be off-putting for some. If older users are not used to a smartphone, the interface and apps required can be confusing.
A better option for silver surfers than a smartphone is a tablet.
This combines all of the positive usability features of a smartphone with a larger screen and the potential to use it with a keyboard as a conventional computer. Tablets are easy to use, lightweight and portable and, if you opt for an iPad, the risks of viruses and malware are low too.
Tablets are increasingly the choice for many silver surfers (more than a quarter of over-75’s have one according to Ofcom) and it is easy to see why.
A disproportionately high number of older computer users still use public computers in places like libraries.
This is an affordable way for them to get online in a safe environment, where there are people they can ask for help. It is also a cheaper way of using the internet than buying a device for yourself.
However, public computers come with more security risks and silver surfers who go online this way have to remember to log out of their accounts and not do anything sensitive like online banking on devices like these.
Most modern TVs come with some sort of Smart TV features these days and with older people tending to watch conventional TV far more than younger people, some will use these devices to get online.
They have the advantage of a big screen but often have controls that are not user-friendly, offer a limited number of apps, and lack basic security protections.
What do Silver Surfers do online?
The term ‘Silver Surfer’ is a generalism and it goes without saying that among the over 50’s are a great many computer literate people who do all sorts of different things online. Let’s not forget that the godfather of modern home computing himself, Bill Gates, is now 64 years old!
But there are still a lot of silver surfers who tend to restrict their online activities to a fairly narrow range of activities. Ofcom claims that 51% of over-75’s fall into this category compared to just 28% across all age groups.
So, what makes up this narrow range of online activities that the majority of silver surfers are spending their time online doing? Here is a brief rundown of what older people tend to use the internet for along with an explanation of the main risks these activities come with:
Even older people send emails rather than write letters these days. Email is a quick and effective way of keeping in touch with friends and family who are based all over the UK and around the world. It is also a source of information for many older people.
Risks: Spam, malware, fraud.
There are a thousand and one different reasons for older people to browse the internet.
They might be trying to remember the name of that chocolate bar they loved as a kid, searching for the answer to a particularly tricky crossword answer, or researching their long-lost cousin who moved to Canada when they were 4.
They might even be doing precisely the same things as everyone does when browsing and just looking for funny cat videos.
Risks: Hacking, fake websites, privacy, personal data, fraud.
According to Ofcom, almost half of all internet users aged between 65-74 have at least one social media account and this is going up rapidly. Even 41% of silver surfers over 75 years old have one.
They are a great way to engage with friends and family, meet new people, reconnect with old friends, and engage with just about any type of hobby or activity you are interested in.
Risks: Spam, malware, privacy, personal data, fraud.
For some older people, getting to the shops can be arduous and trying to get your big supermarket shop or a huge bag full of new clothes back home again is a struggle. Online shopping is, therefore, a godsend to many older internet users
They can choose what they want on their computer and it will be delivered to their door. Amid the recent coronavirus pandemic, this has proved particularly useful.
Risks: Overspending, fraud, fake websites, hacking, personal data, malware.
According to the Office of National Statistics, older internet users are far less likely to do online banking than younger people. But still, their data for 2019 tells us that 51% of people aged 65-74 and 38% of people aged 75-79 still use online banking.
It is an extremely convenient way for older people to manage their money without having to slog it into a branch every time they want to pay a bill for transfer money to another account.
But, online banking can come with risks too and not every silver surfer fully appreciates this.
Risks: Hacking, personal information, fraud, theft.
Older people can get lonely, especially if they live alone and are a long way from their close friends or family. But the internet offers a great solution to this issue by enabling them to communicate with people all over the world.
We have already touched on emails, but a growing number of older people are also using apps like WhatsApp to send and receive messages.
Videoconferencing apps like FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom have also grown massively in popularity among older people (particularly during the coronavirus lockdown) as a way of seeing and speaking with people who you can’t actually visit regularly in person.
Risks: Hacking, malware, personal information, privacy.
Reading news and learning new information
The internet offers older people a vast information resource. It has a wide range of news and current affairs information, both through the websites and apps of conventional mainstream media outlets, and online-only resources.
A lot of older people choose to learn new skills and information in their retirement and the internet offers a wealth of online courses, resources, and tools to enable them to do this.
Risks: Fake websites, privacy, fake news.
Watch TV and Movies
While older people are typically more likely to watch TV in the conventional manner, a growing number are choosing to watch programmes and movies online through on-demand services like the BBC iPlayer and Netflix.
Around a third of internet users aged between 65-74 watch online catch-up services.
Like everyone else, they are attracted to the concept of being able to watch exactly what you want to watch at a time that is convenient to you, rather than having to shape your life around the TV schedules.
The appeal of watching box-sets and whole series at a time rather than one episode a week is also attractive.
Risks: Fake websites, screen time, privacy, piracy.
Part 2: How Silvers Surfers can stay safe online
The internet is an increasingly risky place and silver surfers are arguably more at risk online than any other demographic.
Around 20% of silver surfers told Ofcom they were “not confident” online in general with the same percentage reporting that they were “not at all confident” about managing their personal data online.
Perhaps even more troubling is the statistic that says that 16% of internet users over the age of 55 “never” consider the privacy or data implications of posting photos and other information online.
A considerable number of older internet users were unaware of personalised advertising and the potential privacy implications that came with it too. 72% of over 75’s and 60% of people aged 65-74 years old said they were completely unaware of this type of advertising when asked by Ofcom.
A lot of older internet users who might have limited knowledge of computing and only want to stick to doing the basics online may well be put off by the huge range of different tools and rules that there are out there to help you stay safe online.
That’s exactly why we have written this guide, so let’s start by reassuring all our readers:
It is not difficult to stay safe, secure, and private online!
In this section, we are going to provide you with all the information you need. We will show you how to protect your own devices, how to be safe and private when using the internet and advise you on what you should and shouldn’t do online.
Take your time and read through this information slowly, one section at a time. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us or ask a friend or family member to help you.
It may not be difficult to stay safe online, but it is important, so don’t rush this. Take your time and get it right. In the long run, it will definitely be worth it.
Protect your devices
The first step you need to take is to protect your devices from threats such as malware, viruses, and other malicious software. This can be done with the help of a few simple bits of software:
1. Antivirus software
Viruses and malware are nasty little computer programmes that can slow down your computer, steal data from your device, and even seize control of it altogether.
Anti-virus software can help to stop viruses and other malicious software from infecting your system and block and remove any that do find their way onto your system.
There is a bit of a myth that anti-virus software is not needed for Apple devices. Some people think they aren’t necessary for tablets and smartphones too. This is not true. Any device that you are using to go online should have anti-virus software installed. A few of the best anti-virus tools you can use are:
Bitdefender Antivirus is an excellent anti-virus programme that is regularly updated with the latest online threats. It is simple to use but is packed full of features too for the more adventurous silver surfers out there.
The free version of Bitdefender will be more than sufficient for simple online activity like browsing and emails. If you tend to do more online, you might want to consider updating for their Bitdefender Antivirus Plus programme which is even more secure and very reasonably priced.
With Bitdefender Antivirus plus you can protect up to 10 devices. Windows and Mac devices are included in this deal but if you want to use this software on iOS or Android mobile devices too, you will need to pay a bit more for Bitdefender Total Security.
Avast is probably the best known free antivirus programme on the market right now. It is incredibly lightweight, which means it will take up less space on your device. But it is still powerful and effective at keeping your device virus-free.
You can choose to get even more protection by paying a little more to upgrade to their Premium Security programme. This bundles together various other bits of Avast software including a VPN. We generally advise against using these as they are not as feature-rich as a dedicated VPN.
But the increased level of security is helpful, especially if you are doing a bit more than normal online and Avast is another really user-friendly piece of software.
Norton Antivirus Plus
You may well have heard the name Norton Antivirus before. It has been around a long time and is still one of the best anti-virus tools on the market right now.
It offers a massive range of virus definitions and these are regularly updated which means you should be protected from any new viruses that emerge fast.
We were a little less impressed with the Norton interface than some others on this list. It is a bit less user-friendly but doesn’t take too much time to get used to.
There is no free version of this software available but prices are reasonable. However, you will need a new subscription for every device you use, which can add up if you go online using several different devices.
Trend Micro Antivirus +
Trend Micro has been in the anti-virus market for about as long as Norton and their experience really shines through in their Antivirus + software. It is highly rated by security experts and with good reason because the levels of protection it offers are up there with the very best.
The downside to Trend Micro Antivirus + is that it is quite resource-intensive and can slow down your device. This can be annoying at times and could tempt some people to choose to switch their anti-virus software off, which would be a very dangerous idea.
If you want a more comprehensive anti-virus tool, Trend Micro also offers their higher-spec Internet Security and Maximum Security software too.
Sophos can protect up to ten devices and offers a platform that has been designed with novices in mind. The simple interface is really user-friendly and for those who like to keep things as simple as possible, Sophos represents a great choice.
Its anti-virus capabilities are not quite up to the heights of some of the others on this list but will still be more than sufficient for the narrow online habits of most silver surfers.
The free version of Sophos Home will suffice for many, although those who want more robust protection can opt for Sophos Home Premium which is available at fairly reasonable prices too.
2. Use a VPN
While it is quite likely that many Silver Surfers are at least aware of anti-virus software, many will never have heard of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and even fewer will know what they are and why they are so important.
The very name sounds scary and complicated, but the software itself really isn’t. And in the modern internet age, using a VPN is every bit as important as anti-virus software.
A VPN is a tool which protects your online data by securing the connection that is made between your device and the websites and online services you are using. It keeps your data safe in two main ways:
When you usually go online, your device will make a direct connection with the websites and apps you are using. This connection is insecure, easy to intercept and hackers could successfully steal personal data in this way.
A VPN redirects all of your internet data down an encrypted tunnel. This secures your online data by disguising it while it is in transit. Most reputable VPNs will use ’256-bit AES’ encryption, which is recognised as being unbreakable.
As well as encrypting everything you do online, a VPN will also redirect your internet data through an external server. This is an important privacy procedure as it changes the IP Address that is connected to your internet data.
An Internet Protocol (IP) Address is tagged on everything you do online and is how websites and your internet provider keeps track of what you do online. By changing your IP Address, a VPN makes it much harder for companies and hackers to monitor and log your online activity.
When your data passes through a VPN server, your internet provider can no longer see which websites you visit and so is unable to log your internet activity.
The websites you visit are also unable to track your activity back to you directly and this not only boosts your online privacy but also helps to keep you safe from targeted advertising and other exploitative practices online.
It goes without saying that this requires you to enter no personal information while connected as nothing can protect against your own direct actions.
VPN use has risen rapidly in the UK and around the world. It is estimated that between a quarter and a third of internet users around the world routinely use a VPN. However, the percentages are higher for younger users than older ones.
When looking at the over 55’s age group, the most recent study found that VPN usage was around 4%, which is way below the average and shows that a lot of silver surfers are missing out on this essential online security tool.
The reason for this generally put down to computer illiteracy and a lack of awareness of VPNs. We hope this article will help many of our readers to feel more confident about using a VPN as they really are crucial in this day and age.
How to download and install a VPN?
Getting a VPN downloaded and installed on your device is effortless. The first thing you have to do is to choose the best VPN provider for you.
Keep on reading and we will recommend the top 5 VPNs for silver surfers further down this guide.
Once you have chosen your preferred VPN, follow the link in this guide to visit their website and sign up for their service.
To get a decent VPN, you will need to pay a small fee, but this works out at no more than a few dollars (£2-3) a month in most cases and the benefits of a VPN are worth a lot more than that.
Then follow these few simple steps to get your VPN set up and ready to use:
- Download the VPN app onto all your devices. This should be done either from the official website or by searching for the official app (make sure it is the right one) in your devices app store.
- Open the app and login using the account details you were given when you signed up.
- Click the Quick Connect button that most apps will feature prominently on their home page.
- That’s it! You are connected to the fastest available server and all of your data is now secure and protected.
There are options to change to different servers or play about with various features if you want to, but for most users, this is all you have to do to enjoy all the security and privacy benefits that a VPN offers.
Top 5 VPNs for Silver Surfers
While most VPNs are simple to use, some are more user-friendly than others. We have spent years reviewing all the best (and many of the worst) VPNs on the market, so no-one is better placed than us to judge which VPNs are most suitable for Silver Surfers.
But to be absolutely sure, we have also asked several elderly internet users to have a go at using all of these VPNs to see how they found the experience. Their feedback has been combined with our own reviews to come up with this definitive top 5 list:
- Strong security and privacy protections.
- Well-designed user-friendly apps.
- Fast and reliable connections.
- A little more expensive than most.
ExpressVPN has been our Editor’s Pick for Best VPN on the market for some time and its service is as suited to silver surfers as it is to any other demographic.
Its offers unbreakable 256-bit AES Encryption for all its users, keeps no logs of user activities, and its connections speeds are among the fastest around.
You can protect up to 5 devices with every account and the ExpressVPN apps are extremely user-friendly and available on just about every device you can think of.
There are extra features if you want them but you can just click on the big ‘Quick Connect’ button and then get on your with regular internet activities if you wish. ExpressVPN is one of the most reliable and dependable VPNs around and there is even a 30-day money-back guarantee if you aren’t completely happy.
- Secure and private.
- Fast connection speeds.
- 6 Simultaneous connections.
- Had a minor security blip in 2019.
NordVPN is a lot cheaper than ExpressVPN but still comes with almost all of the same benefits. It uses unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption and has a no user logs guarantee that has been verified by an independent audit.
There are lots of NordVPN apps available and they are well designed, easy to use, and you can connect up to six devices at the same time.
There are tons of additional features available but these are all optional and you can just connect to the fastest server with a single click and then get on with other things.
NordVPN comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee too and with prices starting from around £2 a month, they are one of the best value-for-money VPNs on the market right now.
- Really usable apps.
- Use on up to seven devices.
- Good security and privacy protections.
- Lacking some features for more advanced users.
If you want a VPN that has been tailor-made for novices and is fun to use, but still brings all the security and privacy protection you need, then CyberGhost is a great choice.
Their app is superbly designed and very intuitive and you can connect to the perfect server for all your internet needs in a single click. You can connect up to seven devices simultaneously and apps are available for all major devices too.
Security and privacy are also very good and prices are extremely competitive and come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. CyberGhost VPN is the perfect VPN for total novices, although it does lack a few features for more advanced users.
- Good encryption
- Fast connection speeds
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Not the fastest speeds.
IPVanish is one of the longest-standing VPNs and it still has a lot going for it. There are lots of IPVanish apps available for most devices. These apps are well designed and easy to use and novice users can still get connected with a single click. You can also use IPVanish on as many devices as you like.
Connections speeds are still fast and reliable and the encryption on offer to all users is of the unbreakable 256-bit AES variety. While there have been a few privacy question-marks in recent times, we are still generally impressed.
IPVanish is a little more expensive than some of its close competitors but this is another reliable VPN that is well worth considering.
- Unlimited connections
- Strong encryption
- Impressive connection speeds
- Logging policy not ideal for privacy
Surfshark is the youngest VPN on this list, but they have really gatecrashed the VPN scene with a service that is hugely impressive yet remarkable easy to use.
Surfshark’s apps are well designed, easy to use, and crucially allow single click connections. They are available for most major devices and you can connect an unlimited number of devices to their service with a single account.
Surfshark has unbreakable encryption but their logging policy is not perfect and they retain more user data than we would like. Connections speeds are good though and there are plenty of additional features to play with if you want to.
A warning about Free VPNs
All of the recommended VPNs in this section come with a small monthly fee. This is a negligible amount of money when you consider all the security and privacy benefits they offer.
But if you search for the term VPN in Google, you will see that there are plenty of VPNs that offer the service for free.
You might, therefore, be thinking that you can just use a Free VPN and enjoy the same protections. But unlike anti-virus software, this is not the case.
Free VPNs do not offer the same service as paid-for providers such as those recommended above. Many free VPNs will actually make you less safe online for a number of reasons:
- Malware – Lots of free VPNs have been found to download malware and other malicious software onto your devices.
- Weak or No Encryption – Most free VPNs offer encryption that can easily be hacked. Some don’t actually encrypt your data at all.
- Harvest and sell data – Most free VPNs make their money by collecting your internet data and selling it. They offer no privacy benefits at all.
- Advertising – Lots of free VPNs will inject adverts into your web browser and other things meaning you get far more annoying pop-up ads.
- Slow speeds – Free VPNs spend less on their servers and as a result, they often slow your internet connection down a lot.
- Data limits – All our recommended VPNs let you use the internet as much as you like. But most free VPNs have small data limits that you are likely to use up even if you only do web browsing and emailing.
The risks and downsides to using a free VPN far outweigh the small amount of money you will save. This is why almost all online security experts have reached the same conclusion:
Don’t use Free VPNs!
3. Use an Ad-Blocker
Adverts are one of the biggest threats to our online privacy. Still, research suggests that Silver Surfers are the demographic that are least aware of how online advertising works and the potential threat to their online privacy that it can be.
At the same time, 46% of over-75s say they are unable to identify sponsored advertising and more than a quarter didn’t even know what it was.
Online advertising is a massive industry in the UK. It is worth an estimated £1.34 billion a year and is the equivalent of 0.63% of the country’s GDP. That makes it the largest equivalent market share of any country on earth and all the signs are that it will continue to grow in the months and years ahead.
As older internet users generally have more disposable income than younger ones, they are likely to be targeted more, yet are the least aware of how the system works.
It is very complicated and rather than try and understand it, the best advice for silver surfers is to take back control. There are a number of tools you can use to do this.
By encrypting your data and hiding your identity, a VPN can help you to be much less vulnerable to targeted advertising.
But there is another simple tool you can use to block adverts from appearing in your browser while you are online. Adblockers are simple tools which will stop the majority of adverts on the majority of websites from appearing on your screen.
This stops you from falling victim to scam adverts and helps to prevent advertising from collecting data about you to aim targeted ads at you based on your online history.
Some adblockers will come bundled together with other software, including anti-virus and VPN programs. If you have already signed up for one of these, it is worth taking a look to see if you already have an ad-blocker on these programs that you can just enable.
If not, there are a number of terrific dedicated ad-blockers out there that you can download and use. Many of these are simple web-browser extensions that will work in your preferred browsers. Some are more comprehensive programs that protect all of your apps as well.
Crucially, there are some free ad blockers that are every bit as effective as the paid-for versions:
AdBlock is an extension that can be downloaded onto all major browsers.
It works on Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. It will block pop-up adverts, video adverts, banner adverts, and anything that might compromise your privacy or negatively impact your internet experience.
It is highly customisable if you want to play about with it, but generally speaking, the default settings will suffice for most users.
It is free to download and once the download is complete, it should work automatically. If you do have any problems, they also have a great customer support team on standby to assist.
2. AdBlock Plus
Despite the similar name, this is not connected to the previous ad-blocker in any way. But it does offer broadly the same service. AdBlock Plus is able to block all intrusive adverts and includes a range of features that allows you to tailor its service to suit your needs.
This one doesn’t have apps for mobile devices at the moment but you can use it with Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Edge, and even Internet Explorer.
There have been some reports of Adblock Plus accepting payment to whitelist some advertisers but we haven’t seen much evidence of this and in practice, Adblock Plus will block a considerable number of those annoying adverts.
AdLock is not a browser extension but rather an entirely separate program. It is able to block adverts on all leading browsers but also services like Skype and even within video games.
You will have to pay to download AdLock, but it is available on Windows, Chrome, and Android devices (although the Google Play store doesn’t like it, so you will need to install it on tablets and smartphones manually).
AdLock is easy to use and more comprehensive than the browser extension ad blockers, but probably one for the more advanced users.
AdGuard is a subscription-based ad-blocker which is available on iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android devices. It covers all popular browsers and is able to prevent a wide range of adverts.
Users can tailor the service to suit their needs and it can be used to block tracking cookies and other privacy-busting online features too.
The AdGuard apps are relatively easy to use but, if we are honest, for most silver surfers who are engaging in a limited range of online activities, this programme is probably a step too far and a simple browser plug-in will suffice.
5. VPN Ad-Blockers
A growing number of VPNs include an in-built ad blocker with their standard subscription packages. Most of these are pretty decent so, if you have already signed up for the VPN, it makes sense to take advantage of this feature as you have already paid for it.
Some of the best VPN-based ad-blockers include:
- CyberSec by NordVPN – a built-in ad-blocker that scans every website you visit and automatically stops many adverts. It will also block you from accessing websites that are known to contain malicious material like malware too.
- CyberGhost – CyberGhost VPN comes with an ad-blocker built into its core program. This can stop most adverts, trackers, and malicious software from reaching your device.
- CleanWeb by Surfshark – Surfshark’s in-built ad-blocker that prevents most annoying adverts and also protects from malware and other malicious content.
4. Passwords Protection and Best Practice
The majority of websites and online services require users to create an account and this will invariably involve setting up a password.
Passwords are the most common way to identify yourself online, but they are also one of the most popular ways for hackers to access your personal data too.
There is lots of conflicting guidance available online about how to make your passwords secure. It can get very confusing, especially for silver surfers who are relatively new to the internet.
So, we have pulled together some of the best and most up-to-date advice into a single, straightforward guide:
Don’t use weak passwords
Last year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre published its first annual UK Cyber Survey. Alongside this, they produced a list of the 100,000 most common passwords which have been breached by hackers.
This long list including passwords that many people reading this guide may well recognise. The overall top 5 were:
They also flagged the propensity of people to use simple passwords such as names, favourite football teams, musicians, and fictional characters.
The reason that these passwords are breached the most is that they are effortless to guess. Even a novice hacker who is trying to break into an account knows to try different versions of ‘password’, ‘qwerty’, and 123456.
There are also basic tools which automatically try names and dictionary words in an attempt to guess passwords.
It doesn’t take much research to find out the names of your children or grandchildren and try those too.
Don’t repeat passwords
A lot of people also have the habit of using the same password for multiple accounts. Again, this is a big security faux-pas even if that password is classed as a secure one, you are making the job easier for hackers.
Once they have cracked the password to one of your accounts, they will then be able to access multiple accounts with the same password. So, you should never use the same password twice.
Rules for choosing a secure password
When you choose a password for a new account, there are a few things you need to remember:
- Avoid common words and phrases like ‘password’.
- Avoid personal details, such as family names and dates of birth.
- Make sure all your passwords are a minimum of 8 characters in length. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack.
- Always use a combination of upper and lower case letters throughout the password.
- Always use numbers in your password.
- Always use keyboard symbols such as @, !, and & in your password.
An ideal password is a random stream of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. But the problem with these is that they are too hard for most people to remember.
Another theory is that rather than a random string of characters, it is just as secure to put three unrelated words together to make a password. Again, these words should avoid personal information and include different types of characters, but they can be easier to remember.
Some possibilities include:
- K1tch3nrad!shFurni7tuRe (Kitchen-Radish-Furniture)
- Sp3ck!edf15HL1andudn0 (Speckled-Fish-Llandudno)
- Ch33seV0lv0L1v3rp0o7 (Cheese-Volvo-Liverpool)
Don’t write your passwords down
Writing a list of your passwords is one of the worst and most insecure things you can do. If you get a break in and your burglar takes your device and your list they are immediately able to access all of your online accounts.
If you can’t remember all of your passwords (and there are a lot, so it is hard), write a list of hints which you might understand but anyone else wouldn’t. Or better still, use a Password Manager to secure all of your passwords.
What is a Password Manager?
A password manager is a solution to all your password worries.
It is a simple online tool which stores all of the passwords to all of your accounts in one place. These passwords are secured with encryption and can only be accessed by you via a single master password which is all you have to remember.
Even more helpfully, password managers are often able to generate randomised and secure passwords for you. And they can auto-fill website and app logins, so you don’t even have to type them in. Just choose the account you want to login to and your password manager will automatically fill in the details, so you just have to click login.
This isn’t nearly enough and weak passwords remain one of the most common ways in which hackers can compromise devices and accounts.
Obviously, by using a password manager, you are entrusting all of your login details to one company, so you need to make sure this is a reliable and dependable company.
The best password management companies will never be able to access your personal details themselves. It is all secured by unbreakable encryption and only you can access it with your master password (make sure you don’t forget this!).
Our Top 5 recommended Password Managers for Silver Surfers are:
LastPass is probably the best known password manager and it is still one of the best. It allows you to store all your passwords as well as credit card details and other sensitive information which you might use online.
It lets you generate new, strong, unique passwords and you can set reminders to refresh these on a regular basis. You can also add notes and comments to different websites.
LastPass has a great autofill feature, high-quality security, and a free version which only allows you to use it on one device but which may well be sufficient for some Silver Surfers.
LastPass is available on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices and its apps are really well designed and super-easy to use.
DashLane is another well-established password manager. It is also available as a limited free version, although to get the full service with all the features, you will need to upgrade to their premium version.
DashLane lets you store all of your passwords securely and recover them quickly. It can auto-fill your passwords into any website or app and generate secure passwords for you.
As a bonus feature, DashLane is also able to search the Dark Web (the part of the internet beyond the reach of search engines where many criminals and hackers operate) to see if your password appears there, which would suggest you have been hacked.
DashLane is available on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux devices and its apps are also extremely user-friendly.
1Password is another powerful password manager, that will remember all of the passwords for you, and let you log into websites with a single click.
It is user-friendly, with a great modern-looking and easy-to-use app, and a free trial available.
1Password contains a number of bonus features such as supporting Two-Factor Authentication and authenticator tools (see below) and lets you specify certain vaults as safe for travel to provide bonus layers of protection.
1Password supports most major device types and also has a range of browser extensions available too.
Like 1Password, KeePassXC is another great password manager that is perhaps better suited for more experienced users.
This one has the added security of allowing you to self-host your password database. This means that your passwords are securely stored on your device rather than someone else’s server.
For tech-savvy users, this is a great security feature but it does make things more complicated, which is why KeyPassXC is not higher up our list for Silver Surfers.
5. Password Boss
Last but by no means least is Password Boss. This is a cloud storage based Password Manager that has a popular free version that has already attracted many users.
It is one of the most secure password managers around with all the main features of the other tools on this list. The big advantage is that it keeps your passwords in a secure cloud storage facility which makes it easier to access them from anywhere and means your passwords are not stored on any one individual server or device.
While Password Boss has many advanced features, it is still fairly simple to use, although complete novices might want to opt for something more straightforward.
Other ways of making your passwords more secure
Using a password manager should be sufficient protection for most Silver Surfers. But if you are a cautious type and are keen to keep your online data as private and secure as possible, there are a few ways that you can make your password-protected accounts even more secure:
Two Factor Authentication (2FA)
2FA adds an extra layer of protection on top of your password to make your accounts even more secure.
If you implement 2FA, it also means that should you password end up in the wrong hands, your account still won’t be accessible unless the hacker has access to your smartphone or another device.
2FA will usually take the form of a separate code that will be sent to your smartphone or email address. You will need to enter this information alongside your log-in before you can access your account.
You can learn more about 2FA by reading our complete guide here.
Some sites and devices have implemented biometric identification processes in addition to passwords to ensure that only the account holder is able to access their account.
This includes things like fingerprint scans, facial recognition, and voice recognition technology. Such technology also has some serious privacy dilemmas, but it does stop hackers and other malicious actors from accessing your accounts.
Physical keys such as the YubiKey offer another type of 2FA. These keys generate a one-time code every time you want to log in to a site.
This type of security means that you have to have the physical key in your possession to log into your account. This can be annoying if you use your devices while out and about, but it does mean that unless your key falls into the wrong hands, your accounts are secure.
6. Using Public Wi-Fi
If you have a tablet or smartphone (or possibly a laptop too), it is quite likely that you use public Wi-Fi connections from time to time.
Public Wi-Fi connections refer to any internet connections that are open for the general public to use. These are things like Wi-Fi connections in coffee shops, other retail outlets, pubs, on public transport, in railway stations, airports, and so on.
The important thing that everyone needs to remember about all public Wi-Fi networks is that they are not secure.
Because these networks are open to multiple users, the password to log in is readily available to anyone who wants it. Once inside the network, there is the possibility a hacker could intercept the data of other users of the same network and steal their information.
Another popular trick is to set up a rival public Wi-Fi network nearby, often without a password, and try and con people into connecting to that instead.
For example, if you are connecting in a Starbucks coffee shop, a hacker might set up a network called ‘Starbucks-Free-Wi-Fi’. Wi-Fi networks can be given any name you like and many people will not check they are connecting to the official Starbuck’s Wi-Fi service and end up being hacked.
Earlier this year, no less an organisation than the FBI issued clear and strict guidelines for all users of public Wi-Fi networks and their advice applies to Silver Surfers every bit as much as everyone else.
Their advice was:
- Check the name and password of every Wi-Fi network you join to make sure it is the official network and not being spoofed by a hacker.
- Avoid doing anything sensitive, such as online banking or using a credit card to make a purchase, when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
- Disable your location settings to ensure that you are not making public the fact that you are not at home – this could be an invitation to burglars.
- Never allow your device to connect to free Wi-Fi networks automatically. Always ensure you manually log-in each time.
- Sit with your back to the wall or in a place where you know other people cannot look over your shoulder and see your screen. This is another common way for people to steal your online details.
As we wrote at the time, there was one glaring omission to the FBI’s guidance which can actually make just about any legitimate public Wi-Fi network safe: use a VPN.
If you connect your device to a VPN before using a public Wi-Fi network, you are ensuring that all the data you send is secure and encrypted. You are also ensuring that no-one can trace what you are doing online back to you.
If you have a VPN enabled, it is possible to use public Wi-Fi securely. However, we would still advise caution and would suggest that public Wi-Fi networks should only be used when absolutely necessary.
7. Safe Online Banking and Shopping
Online banking is a great way for older people to manage their money without having to traipse down to their local branch in all weathers.
Likewise, buying things online and having them delivered to your door is a lot easier than having to go out in person and carry your purchases home.
However, a lot of Silver Surfers can still be wary of shopping and banking online because they are concerned that they could end up losing money or doing something wrong.
Younger people enjoy the convenience of online banking as it helps them to fit it into their busy schedule. But there is absolutely no reason why older internet users should enjoy this convenience too.
There is a similar trend when it comes to online shopping too, but it is not quite so pronounced.
Office of National Statistics data for 2018 shows that 54% of people over the age of 65 engage in online shopping. But for the 16-34 year old the figure is still significantly higher, with a huge 97% doing some form of online shopping.
The concerns that Silver Surfers have about the safety of online shopping and banking are perfectly legitimate. But they often stem from a lack of knowledge of how to mitigate these risks.
The truth is that with a little bit of caution, it is perfectly safe to do shopping and banking online.
There are an awful lot of safe online shopping and banking guides online and many are targeted at the Silver Surfer demographic. However, these can contain conflicting advice and end up making things even more complex and confusing than they were before.
This is why we have compiled our ultimate list of tips on how to do shopping and banking online safety. Follow these tips and you shouldn’t have to look anywhere else for advice:
- Secure websites – Make sure you are only using a secure website when shopping or banking online. You can tell this by looking at the website address in the bar across the top of your browser. The first five letters at the beginning of the address should be ‘https’. If the website only says http, this is not secure. You can also look for the padlock icon, which will be displayed somewhere around the address bar depending on which browser you are using.
- Never enter your PIN number – No legitimate online banking site will ever ask you to enter your PIN number. They may ask for your CVV number, which is the last three numbers of the strip on the back of your card.
- Don’t log-in via email – A common online scam is to send fake emails purporting to be from your bank or a retailer and asking you to click on a link to enter some information. This will invariably lead you to a fake site. Always enter your bank’s website via a legitimate search engine or better still, bookmark the safe link in your browser and use this.
- Security Messages – If you get a message or a pop-up warning you about a websites security certificate, beware. This could be a fake website set up to steal your data. Close the site straight away and don’t enter any further details.
- Be aware of hidden costs – Not all online retailers will list prices including VAT, delivery charges or other hidden fees. Be mindful of these and check that you are happy with the final amount you are paying before completing your purchases.
- Use online retailers with a reputation – If you buy stuff through a retailer you have never heard of, you run a higher risk of falling victim to a scam. Stick to retailers you know and if unsure, do some research before you start shopping.
- Check where retailers are based – Consumer rights vary from one country to the next and this can affect what happens if you encounter a problem. Stick to retailers in your country where possible and if not, be sure what the refund and return policies are before buying.
- Use a credit card to make online purchases – Credit cards offer insurance over online purchases that debit cards don’t. This means that if you encounter a problem, you can get your money back much easier.
One last piece of advice which applies to all internet users but especially Silver Surfers is a more general online shopping tip:
If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is!
It is not unknown for people to buy cheap furniture online and end up with a sofa for a dolls house, or to buy a cheap iPad and be sent a picture of one instead.
It’s also been known for accounts on eBay to be hacked and offer for sale expensive items at unbelievably low prices.
Read the details carefully before you decide to buy and if in doubt, don’t make the purchase.
Part 3: Scams
In the previous section, we looked at the different ways in which Silver Surfers can stay safe online. In this final section, we are going to examine some of the most common online scams that can be targeted at silver surfers.
It is generally believed that older people are more susceptible to scams than younger ones.
Actually, recent research shows that it is millennials that are most likely to fall for a scam, but people over the age of 55 years old are the ones who tend to lose the most money.
These figures are possibly explained by the fact that Silver Surfers tend to do a narrower range of activities online and also spend less time online.
They are also still far too high. There are a lot of different scams online and there is no denying that a lot of them will specifically target older internet users since they tend to have more disposable income.
But, with some simple good habits and online behaviour, it is possible to protect yourself from the bulk of these and identify what is a scam and what isn’t.
In this section of the guide, we are going to explain some of the most common online scams that Silver Surfers can fall victim to and offer some advice on how to make sure you don’t:
We haven’t talked much about email so far in this guide and that might seem like an omission. But actually, talking to a range of silver surfers, email is something that most are confident and comfortable doing and awareness of the risks involved is actually pretty high.
But there is one area where this is demonstrably not the case and that is with email scams.
Email scams are among the most common type of online scam.
They will typically involve a hacker or another malicious actor pretending to be someone else such as your bank or a retailer, to con you into sharing bank details or other information with them.
Often these emails will be indistinguishable from ones sent by the real company. They will feature the same logo, format, colours, and design scheme. They will often feature an offer that sounds attractive or a warning that if you don’t act now, you could be at risk.
Most phishing emails will try to get you to click on a link that will take you to a fake website.
For example, they might want you to click on a link to Ama.zon.com or Paypa1.com but they can be even more sophisticated and use special computer lettering.
If you click on the link, you will be directed to a fake website which again may look indistinguishable from the real thing. But when you enter your details, you are giving them all to the hackers.
Another type of phishing email will download malware or other types of malicious software onto your device when you click on the link. This can then be used by the hacker to steal your information or even hijack your device at their leisure.
How to stay safe from email scams and phishing emails
Legitimate email address? – Look closely at the email address that has sent the email. If it contains an anonymous combination of letters and numbers or comes from a webmail service (such as [email protected]) it is almost certainly a scam and you should junk it.
Spelling and Grammar – Look closely at the spelling and grammar of the email. These phishing emails often originate from outside English speaking countries and are written by people who don’t speak fluent English.
It is highly unlikely that an official email from a UK bank or retailer would contain significant spelling or grammar errors, so if you do find some, be suspicious and don’t click on any links.
Urgency – Phishing emails rely on people reacting quickly to an email. The longer people spend thinking about it, the less likely they are to act. This is why many phishing emails urge you to act now and act fast. A bank or retailer would never write an email like this, so if yours is urging immediate action, it is probably fake.
Attachments – Never open attachments on an email unless you are 100% certain of who it came from. A bank or retailer would never send you an attachment in an email. They would tell you to log into your account to read anything like that there. If there is an attachment on an email, assume it is a scam.
If you have any doubts about an email, don’t click on any links and don’t open any attachments. Instead, contact the bank or retailer in question and ask them directly if it is from them.
You can do this by logging into your account properly, where you should find any correspondence stored anyway, or giving them a call.
Security Software Scams
Once you have got your anti-virus, VPN, and other security software set up on your devices, you will need to be aware of the risk of security software scams too.
These can take the form of an email purporting to be from your software provider that warns you that your online security has been compromised and urges you to take action.
Another common type of security scam can take the form of a pop-up message that can appear on your browser when you visit certain sites that again warns you that your security has been compromised.
Often these messages will offer to clean up the issue for you straight away if you click on a link. But if you click on this link, it is likely that they will instead install a virus or a piece of malware onto your device.
Another scam involves urging you to contact their customer support team for help and then giving you a fake number. When you call them, the tech support people will take over your device and pretend to clean it.
They might then install malware themselves or more likely try to sell you another unnecessary security product, often costing hundreds of pounds.
How to stay safe from security software scams
There are two simple rules to help you avoid this type of scam:
- Never click on a link in a pop-up window, especially if it is warning you about your device being infected.
- Download your security software from the recommended lists in this guide and then stick with it. We have told you everything you need to have – don’t let anyone else try to tell you differently.
If your security software scam arrives via email, follow the advice in the previous section.
Do note that no legitimate security software company will email you with a warning if your device has been compromised.
Romance Scams / Catfishing
Another topic that we haven’t touched on in this guide yet is the world of online dating. A lot of Silver Surfers are attracted to online dating if they have lost their partner and want to find love or just a bit more company.
Again, our research suggests that most older internet users are fairly comfortable with using regular online dating sites and there are many tailored to older users that make signing up and searching for suitable matches easy.
However, Catfishing scams can affect people of all ages and are something that all Silver Surfers should be aware of.
A catfishing scam is when someone sets up a fake profile on a dating website to meet people who are looking for love or friendship. They will build a relationship with these people, usually with a view to extracting money from them.
Recent figures suggest that the number of catfishing incidents in the UK rose by 64% in the first half of last year and a total of £7.9 million was lost in such scams. Astonishingly, one in five people (of all ages) who use online dating sites say they have been asked for money at some point.
It is a particularly cruel and callous scam and can be hard to detect, but there are a few guidelines that you can follow.
How to stay safe from catfishing
- Search for the person on the internet. If they don’t appear anywhere else or the photos linked to them don’t match, this could be a scam.
- Check to see if they have other social media profiles. If so, when were these profiles set up, how many photos are there, and do they match? Also, consider if the images look a bit too good. Catfishers will often steal pictures that have been taken professionally. Any inconsistencies could mean this is a scam.
- If they start to say they love you early on in your relationship and before you have met them in person, be extremely cautious.
- If they avoid speaking to you face-to-face either in person or via video chatting, there could be a reason for this.
- If they tell you lots of wild stories that don’t quite sound right or contradict each other, this could indicate they are not telling the truth.
- Do they seem to be a bit too perfect and always give the answers you want to hear? If so, you have to question why.
- Have they started asking you for money? If so, think about why they might be asking for this and whether it is appropriate at this stage in your relationship. Catfishers will often ask for money under the guise of doing something for you, such as a plane fare to visit you. They will often start with small sums of money before escalating their requests too. If you have any suspicion at all, don’t send money.
Lottery / Competition Scams
Another common type of scam involves emails which tell you that you have won a large sum of money, either on the lottery or in other types of competition.
These email messages will almost certainly be couched in urgent language, encouraging you to respond immediately to avoid missing out. They will also often tell you not to mention your supposed good fortune to others. Both of these things should be big warning signs.
The sums involved in scams like these will usually be believable amounts in the tens of thousands of pounds because the scammers know that if they promise millions, more people won’t believe them.
They will usually tell you that all you need to do is click in a link and enter some personal details to claim your prize. This will inevitably lead you to a dodgy site and one of the things they will usually ask for is your bank details.
They may also say you need to pay an upfront claim fee.
How to stay safe from lottery/competition scams
Common sense should be enough to help you avoid these scams. If you haven’t entered a competition or lottery, there is no way you can win it. Even if you have entered, no respectable competition is going to inform you that you have won in this way and ask for your bank details.
The simple rule to stay safe from lottery and competition scams is to ignore all these emails, never click on their links and never, under any circumstances, share your bank details or personal information with them.
What to do if you fall victim to a scam
If you think you have been the victim of an online fraud, it can feel embarrassing and humiliating. But it shouldn’t. These scams are perpetrated by extremely clever and manipulative individuals and thousands of people of all ages fall for them every year.
No-one is going to judge you for making a mistake. But everyone will want you to do the right thing and report the scam. This gives you the best possible chance of getting your money back and will also help to ensure that others don’t fall victim to the same scam that you did.
In the UK, there is a dedicated Fraud Reporting service that is open around the clock and is staffed by helpful and understanding individuals who will do everything they can to help you.
Most countries have similar organisations.
Further Online Safety Resources
As we have noted throughout this guide, there is an awful lot of information about online safety available. It can all be a bit overwhelming, which is why we have tried to bring together all the really important and relevant information together in this guide.
If there are some specific areas that you would like further information about, there are some superb resources out there that can help you.
We particularly recommend the following sites:
- Age UK – This UK-based charity offers a whole range of resources on internet and technical topics.
- UK Safer Internet Centre – A huge selection of advice and support for internet users of all ages.
- Get Safe Online – A leading UK-based online security resource.
- Internet Matters – An online safety charity aimed at kids but with great advice for users of all ages.
- Information Commissioners Office – Advice and guidance about online data security from the UK Government’s data commissioner.
A Visual Guide to the issues faced by silver surfers
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This is a long guide and there is an awful lot of information to take in.
We wouldn’t expect anyone to remember everything we have mentioned in this guide on a single read, but this guide will stay on our website indefinitely, so you can always refer back to it as and when you need to.
The key to much of the advice we have given in this guide is to use your common sense. If something looks dodgy or too good to be true, it probably is. There are a lot of scams and dodgy people on the internet and it is quite likely that some will try to exploit you.
But that doesn’t mean you should be scared and try to use the internet to its full potential. There are so many online resources and tools that are great for older internet users and you shouldn’t be afraid to explore and take a few risks.
But be sensible and cautious. Make use of the online security tools that we have recommended and be aware of possible scams. We can’t guarantee your online safety, but just by doing this you are giving yourself the best possible chance.
Go out and enjoy the virtual world but keep your wits about you and if you have any questions, we are always happy to help.
We would love to hear your tips or how this guide has helped you, so please drop us a comment below and don’t forget to share the guide to raise awareness!