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Older people targeted by ransomware while young adults fall for TikTok scams

By Shannon Williams
Thu 20 Jan 2022

New research from Avast has revealed that older and younger generations are being targeted by different online threats based on the primary device that they use to go online.

The research, which forms part of a comprehensive global study with YouGov into digital citizenship trends, found that a majority of New Zealanders aged 55-64 (61%) and over 65 (73%) primarily use their desktop computer or laptop to go online. This makes them more susceptible to ransomware, tech support scams, spyware/Trojans, and Botnets, which can be accidentally or unknowingly downloaded or accessed via links in emails or through malicious websites.

In contrast, younger New Zealanders mainly use their smartphone to go online (18-24 - 67%; 25-34 - 80%; 35-44 - 65%) making them targets for Adware, mobile banking Trojans, downloader and FluBot SMS scams spreading malware, and Instagram and TikTok scams promoting adware apps or Fleeceware. Across all devices, younger and older generations are also targets for phishing attacks and romance scams.

According to Avast Threat Labs data, on desktops Avast blocked on average over 1.46 million ransomware attacks each month in 2021, and between January and April this year, there were 5.9 million tech support scam attack attempts worldwide each month.

On mobile devices, the top threats last quarter were: adware (59%), mobile banking Trojans (9.7%), and downloaders (7.9%), which are harmful apps that use social engineering tactics to trick victims into installing more malicious or otherwise unwanted apps. FluBot has also been spreading widely on mobile in most countries, including New Zealand, where Avast blocked 3,500 attacks monthly in August and September this year, out of 35,000 attacks blocked on average globally per month in Q3.

“Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to steal your data, personal details or money through increasingly sophisticated scams and online threats," says Jaya Baloo, chief information and security officer at Avast.

"They often take into account how younger and older generations use different devices to launch targeted attacks, adapting them to current cultural and usage trends to make them more relevant and likely to hit their mark,” he says. 

The most important internet activity for 18-24 year olds is using social media (37%). For 25-34 year olds, it’s staying in contact with friends and family via messenger services and emails (40%), and for 35-44 year olds, it’s banking and finance activities (40%). This shows why the younger generation are targeted on their smartphone with scams on Instagram and TikTok, FluBot SMS and email phishing scams that look like they’ve come from friends or family, and mobile banking Trojans.

In comparison, the most important activities for the older generation are banking and finance activities (55-64: 55%, 65+: 70%), followed by staying in contact with friends and family via messenger services and email (55-64: 47%, 65+: 56%), and using a search engine (55-64: 33%, 65+: 38%). This helps to explain why they are more likely to be targets for key threats on computers including ransomware, email phishing scams and spyware/Trojans targeting their finances, and tech support scams.

“Of course, younger generations are also susceptible to desktop-related threats as they use desktop devices as their secondary tool to go online, and vice versa older generations also use smartphones, but it’s important that New Zealanders understand the different types of online threats that are targeted at different devices and that you discuss all of these threats as a family so each person is up to date and aware of how to stay safe whatever device they happen to be using," Baloo says.

“Different generations may see the internet with different eyes and have different online experiences, which is something to keep in mind when having conversations about online safety at home," he says.

“As a rule of thumb, when going online, whether it’s on your computer, laptop or smartphone, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t continue. Don’t click on a link in an email, SMS, social ad or website, don’t input your personal or payment details, and don’t download. It’s better to be safe than sorry."

Ballo says it goes without saying that people should also make sure that they have strong digital protection not only for their computer but for their smartphone, which is becoming even more important with growing mobile threats. 

"Look for an all-in-one solution, like Avast Ultimate which is available for up to ten devices to protect users and their families, and protects you from different types of threats, including ransomware, adware, malware, spyware and phishing attacks, while also securing your network via a firewall to prevent hackers from accessing your computer via Wi-Fi and the internet.”

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