Will Geezers Wreak Cybersecurity Havoc?

Don Tennant

There's an effort afoot to bring broadband Internet access to "older adults," a designation referring to people who have managed to make it to at least the ripe old age of 65. That development has raised an interesting question: Are these senior citizens capable of being good Internet citizens who can be trusted to do their part to defend us in the war against botnets?


Full disclosure: I have unwittingly been charged the senior price at movie theaters (not that it bothers me), and as I write this I'm wearing the "Old Guys Rule" T-shirt that my kids got me. So I'm getting on in years, which gives me the right to write about this without having to worry too much about what's politically correct. And yes, I have sent my soup back because it wasn't hot enough.


According to an article on Computerworld by the IDG News Service, there's an organization called Project GOAL (that's GOAL as in "Get Older Adults Online") that aims to bring broadband access and computer training to the over-65 crowd. The article cites FCC findings that only 35 percent of Americans over 65 have broadband access, compared to 65 percent of the population as a whole. The idea is to improve the quality of life for seniors:

Older people can use broadband to shop during bad weather, research medical conditions and use telemedicine services, said Thomas Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), based in New York City. One critical issue that broadband can help older adults with is social isolation, he added.

What's not to love, right? Well, not so fast. A reader who commented on the article sees a disaster in the making:

It's hard enough teaching people who grew up with the technology how to protect their computers. How many of those "older folks" are going to understand not to click on the flashy banner giving away free gift cards because you are the "One millionth visitor!". Many of them don't even lock their cars or the front door. Let's just go ahead and add another few million PCs to the botnet farms out there. I'm sure at some point it won't matter.

My own observation is that seniors tend to be more security-conscious than the general population, not less. I know a lot of the ladies my age at the gym carry their giant pocketbooks with them from machine to machine so they're never out of sight, for example. My sense is that when they're online, they're the least of our cybersecurity worries.


But maybe I need a reality check in addition to my Geritol. What do you think? Can the geezers be trusted not to bring the Internet down if we let them use it?

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 8, 2010 7:58 PM Matthew Hymel Matthew Hymel  says:

Interesting article -

I wanted to bring up 2 points:

1. As time goes on (and as those aged 45-65 grow older), technology will be more integrated into their daily routine and b/c of the times, they will be smarter than the current crop of 65+ adults.  Are we doing enough in public education sectors to teach children the difference in possible malicious content and actual legitimate material?

2. I hope the older generation adapts the internet, especially in the next few decades, for this sole reason: knowledge.  More and more adults are working/contributing at older ages, and even retired professionals can still establish a fruitful blog about their studies and personal opinions (which will have years and years of professional stability).

Overall, great topic discussion and good read!



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