Somewhere in cyberspace, someone is creeping on your Facebook page, studying your LinkedIn account, scoping out your company’s website and Googling your name. Using information you trust, she is crafting the perfect email, and it’s headed for your inbox.
In one click, a split second, you hand over the keys to your little kingdom: passwords, retirement accounts, credit cards.
But what if this personal crisis became a national crisis? What if you are the CEO of a multinational corporation or a top-level politician? In that case, the livelihood of millions might be at stake, or democracy threatened.
In their studies on phishing — and spear phishing, in particular — University of Florida Professors Daniela Oliveira and Natalie Ebner have found that older adults are particularly vulnerable to phishing. And older adults’ status as leaders of industry or politics make them favorite targets for phishing attacks known as spear phishing.
Phishing is a form of social engineering — using deception to get someone to reveal personal or financial information, which can then be used fraudulently.
“When I started researching phishing and aging with Natalie, I learned how important this demographic is,” says Oliveira, a term professor in the Warren B. Nelms Institute for the Connected World. “It was like a spiritual awakening.”
At the annual research conference of the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research, Oliveira gave a presentation titled, “Why You Should Care About Older Adults’ Susceptibility to Phishing — Implications for Corporate Security and Democracy.”
While older adults are connected to the internet at a lower rate than younger adults, by 2020, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, and this demographic, Oliveira points out, controls more than half of the nation’s financial wealth. Age often equates to political status, too.
Lyon Duong/UF Photography