It has been more than two months since most of the country entered quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that many of us are moving from sheltering in place to getting back to a “new normal,” we need to think about how to safely move forward, from grocery shopping to making a living to communicating with our extended families.
If you have family members that are considered high risk, either due to age or an existing condition, they’re likely to continue sheltering in place to reduce the risk of getting sick. It’s important to have an understanding of how we can stay connected with these loved ones without putting their online privacy and security at risk.
Here are five tips for communicating and connecting as we begin to move out of lockdown, from a technological point of view, to keep both our older and less technologically-experienced loved ones safe.
1. Stay Virtually Connected
Communicating with our at-risk family members via technology will be the safest way to stay in touch for a while still, and there are many free online platforms you can use. But, what are the easiest and safest options?
If you and your family members have an iPhone, Facetime is your best bet; the video and audio quality is great and the app is secure. But if not everyone in your family has access to Apple products, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, and Skype are all free options. Zoom requires passwords to enter into a chat as an additional security measure. Just make sure that everyone in the chat is using an up-to-date version of the software. Chatting without the latest security patch can put everyone at risk.
Schedule video calls in advance with your family members and explain the importance of avoiding chats with strangers who may be trying to phish information or send files with dangerous malware.
2. Email and Social Media Phishing Scams
With a pandemic comes those who are willing to exploit it, and this is especially true when it comes to our less technologically-experienced family members. In fact, the FBI has reported receiving four times the number of cybercrime reports than usual since the pandemic broke out.
From fake CDC alerts to bogus IRS calls to false workplace emails, we need to remind our at-risk loved ones to never give out personal data online. Explain that an email with a logo or a text with a linked company website can all be faked by cybercriminals. Spelling and grammar mistakes are often a dead giveaway that they’re being targeted by a phishing scam. Remind them that if they have questions or concerns about the legitimacy of an email or communication attempt from a company, it’s always best to go directly to the source to confirm. However, cybercriminals are slick so it’s best to install antivirus software on any device used by a family member you’re concerned about.
3. Streaming Together, Apart
The term “co-watching” has become common now that many have more free time on their hands. In fact, streaming sites are promoting watching your favorite shows and movies with your loved ones while still social distancing. For example, Netflix recently launched Netflix Party, which synchronizes video playback and lets you chat within your group in real time.
You can also share your Netflix account with family members (basic accounts are allowed to register six devices and stream on two at the same time). If you want to share your account with at-risk family members, keep a few things in mind. Only share your password with those you trust .If you see anything strange on your account – a profile you don’t know, for example – change your password immediately. And speaking of passwords…
4. Where Do You Keep Your Passwords Handy?
We routinely hear how important it is to have different passwords for every account. We also hear how these passwords should be unpredictable, not include any personal information, and be changed on a routine basis. This can be difficult for anyone, let alone an aging family member. One way to ensure passwords are strong and effective is through a password manager, a program that will generate passwords for your family member, store them, and input them accordingly.
If your family member insists on sticking with a less technological approach, like writing their passwords down in a notebook, at least encourage them to avoid labeling them. Should they fall into the wrong hands, it won’t be obvious which password is for their bank account and which is for their email.
5. Don’t Forget About Apps
The average person uses 25 apps, all which leave them vulnerable to hackers, phishing attempts, and malware. Luckily, there are several steps you can take towards beefing up privacy and security for your loved ones’ apps, many of which only take a few minutes. Start by turning off location services on their phone and checking privacy settings on any of their social media accounts. If anything is set to public, switch it to private. Hackers often comb through social media profiles to look for password clues, like birthdates or pet names.
Passwords are just as important on a mobile device as they are on a PC. Utilizing password managers and opting for two-factor authentication when possible are both good practices to consider. When an update is available, whether on your phone or a family member’s device, don’t put off the download for long. These updates often include privacy updates that you may be vulnerable without. Finally, consider installing antivirus software for mobile devices. Such software provides protection while shopping online, browsing your favorite websites, and scrolling on social media.
Until the Next Family Reunion…
Connecting with our loved ones is more important than ever. And even though we’re getting closer to the day where hugs and family dinners will be normal again, putting our family members’ health above our longing for contact is the best practice. By helping our at-risk family members utilize technology to the fullest extent, without compromising their online privacy and security, we can continue to live, laugh, and love.