Internet Security for Beginners

Michael Morales  -  March 19, 2020  -   

Guest post by Jacky Fox, managing director, Security, Accenture

These are testing times for the many Irish citizens and businesses that have struggled to embrace the internet, not helped by accelerated security threats. To mark Cyber Security Month, Jacky Fox, managing director of Accenture Security, offers advice on a safe passage to the benefits of an increasingly digital world.

Even the most powerful and sophisticated companies in the world have fallen foul of cybercriminals, so there’s no shame in members of the public and small business owners finding themselves victims of scams that are now part of everyday life. What would be the very worst outcome is that it puts them off using the internet, exacerbating the problem of Ireland’s digital divide where large swathes of the population are effectively excluded from a rich source of information, services, social engagement, shopping and entertainment.

One of the findings in Accenture’s recent report, ‘Bridging the Gap: Irelands Digital Divide’, is that people with low digital skills tend to be more susceptible to online scams. The report found a correlation between low digital skills and a susceptibility towards online scams and ‘fake news’ with 70% of respondents with a maximum of second-level education stating they’re ‘not confident’ in their ability to identify ‘fake news’.

If you aren’t used to communicating with people by email, you will be more likely to respond to a ‘phishing attack’ – a fake email where somebody purports to be someone they are not, to extract money or personal details from the recipient.

We are pre-programmed as human beings to start from a position of trust when we engage with another person, a deep-rooted psychological trait that cybercriminals understand and feed off as they use social engineering to separate us from our money. Web weary users will give short thrift to fake emails asking for our bank details or cold callers pretending to be service providers who will ‘fix your computer’. But this is a numbers game, and criminals are counting on less digitally literate people to take the bait.

The Covid effect

James Caffrey, Cyber Security Policy Division, Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment (DCCAE) shares some perspectives from his work at a national level. “One consequence of Covid-19 and the restrictions we are living with is that it has encouraged more people to go online for the first time. The Digital Skills for Citizens Scheme supports and empowers citizens who have not used the internet to take their first steps in getting online.”

Since 2017, the DCCAE has provided €5.5 million to community, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations to deliver informal basic digital skills training to people nationwide. Through the new National Cyber Security Strategy, the State will develop a national cybersecurity information campaign to improve awareness among citizens around basic cyber hygiene practices and to support them in this by means of information when it comes to using the internet.  The  Strategy supports the work of Skillnet Ireland in delivering on upskilling and educational supports on cybersecurity for citizens”

If you feel you lack digital skills – and our Digital Divide report reveals that 42 per cent of Irish people describe themselves as being ‘below average’ – you will doubtless feel some trepidation. Making matters worse are reports from Interpol and National Cyber Security Centres of widespread phishing campaigns that use anxiety around Covid-19 to trick people into clicking onto links about the pandemic.

The right reaction is not to be put off and look to manage the risk because internet benefits are too big to be missed. A first line of defence is to hold on to your instincts, park any fears of the web, and try to respond to everything as you would in your everyday life. Imagine someone rings your doorbell to tell you about a tax refund, or about a problem with your car that they need your keys to fix. You would shut the door on them. Do the equivalent online; delete their emails or hang up if it’s a call.

Computers and gadgets 

The first thing you will need to get online safely is a device. With security in mind, old laptops and PCs will be harder to equip with adequate software protection. You will need a relatively new device and the very latest antivirus software to keep it up to date against threats that are constantly evolving. The good news is that there are more devices than ever to access the internet – tablets and mobile phones as well as desktops and laptops – so find the screen/keypad combination you feel most comfortable with.

Then find someone to help you get started. If you’re used to visiting a high street bank or picking up paper-based versions of government forms at the post office, being asked to suddenly do the same things online will be a challenge. Talk to family, a friend or simply someone you trust who has gone a little further down the digital road than you have.

There is no embarrassment in asking for help. That said, it’s a balancing act between finding help and retaining privacy – you can get help but without the need to share your passwords. When you find the right person, work with them to take simple steps online, reading up on the HSE’s latest Covid-19 advice, for example, or applying for something you used to get through the post in paper form.

James Caffrey provides some helpful resources that are available publicly. “Be Safe Online is the government’s campaign to highlight ways to help you stay safe online, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights ways to protect your personal data, as well as advice on how to prevent online fraud. The National Cyber Security Centre has useful advice supports for individuals and businesses on working from home, and Covid-19 cyber security impacts.  October is Cyber Security Month and a programme of activities and events is being finalised to raise further awareness of how to keep safe online. ”

Doing more online 

Paying online for something like a TV licence will take you into online financial transactions in a safe and friendly environment. Always do it from your home, rather than trust public Wi-Fi networks with your credit card details. And a good rule of thumb is to give up as little personal identifiable information as you can. Legitimate sites will offer regulatory compliant processes around protecting your data in transactions and use authentication techniques – leveraging emails and texts – to ensure you are who you say you are.

Human interaction is another good reason to use the internet, especially during Covid-19 when online meetups and social networking sites have filled the physical gap caused by social distancing. Social engineering from unscrupulous cybercriminals is rife around these websites, so only befriend people you know, and again, keep personal details about where you live or even where you are, out of conversations.

At Accenture, we are working with stakeholders across the public and private sector to do a better job of helping citizens and businesses embrace the online world. We are actively working to improve digital literacy through courses and information resources. There is a lot more to be done, but to get started there are plenty of useful websites to help take that first step.

For citizens:

Be Safe Online: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/be-safe-online

Be Media Smart: https://www.bemediasmart.ie/

An Garda Síochána: https://www.garda.ie/en/Crime/Cyber-crime/

For business:

National Cyber Security Centre: https://www.ncsc.gov.ie/

Cyber Ireland: https://www.cyberireland.ie/

Skillnet Ireland: www.skillnetireland.ie

Six tips for online safety

Use a different password for every site and keep them safely hidden

Invest in antivirus software to protect your device against new and existing threats

Never share personally identifiable information unless it’s part of a secure transaction on a well-known website

Shop only at websites prefixed with ‘https’ – the ‘s’ stands for secure

Never download content from a location you don’t know or isn’t well known

Only click on links when you know they come from a trusted source.


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