Should Grandma be on the Internet?

July 7, 2005 by Andrew

I spent quite a few years building early community access systems and conducting public training sessions about the wonders of the Internet (see the National Capital FreeNet).

With today’s serious problems that we have been discussing, including viruses, spyware, trojans, phishing, browser hijacking, etc., I am left worndering if, at least for the time being, my stance should change.  Should the general public with limited computer and Internet skills, Bill’s Dad in the keynote address today, be encouraged to get connected to the Internet?

What is needed is a cost+risk/benefit analysis.  Are the costs and risks associated with going online today, including the extra hardware and software that is needed to remain somewhat secure and the risks of frustration at best and identity theft at worst, great enough that any benefits of going online are now not worth it?

If Grandma wanted to connect to the Internet today, what would you tell her?

I remember that one of the graduate students at RPI when I was there had done a bit of work regarding the elderly and technology. One finding was that many of the elderly loved the Internet because it provided them with an accessible community and means of exploration even once they had limited mobility or means of travel.

Unfortunately, I do not remember her name and cannot find the paper. =(

 

I’d tell her to get a Mac (probably a Mac mini) and not to use internet banking or any of the other services frequently targeted by phishers. That should keep her safe from the two biggest threats for non-geeks: phishing and malware. I certainly wouldn’t want her using Windows - my dad’s on it at the moment and frequently has to take it in to a shop to have all of the crap cleaned off (he’s in France so sadly I can’t help him myself).

 

I didn’t mean safe, I meant “safer than most”.

 

Never mind Grandma, should I be on the Internet?

I do a great deal online, often under time pressure. Not just financial transactions but business transactions. My experience may be greater than Grandma’s. but my personal risk and exposure are also greater.

Where does malware strike first? Not usually in the old people’s home, but sometimes in Microsoft head office. Obviously there are some grandmothers working for Microsoft, but I’m sure that’s not what you meant.

 

my nans on the web, 80+ she uses
a fully patched xp2 sp2 pro
ca antivirus on autoupdate
she upsdate her adaware, spywareguard, spywareblaster
a nice fat “127.0.0.1 badsites” style HOSTS file
firefox with security extensions, she uses safe mode if a website works with it, updates when little arrow
tightVNC for those thorny issues I have to fix remotely
Open source spampal, clammail
Patched Outlook2k3 with Junk mail updates.
She patches her office2k3 / msupdate once a month.
Uses MSN, just cos Ive never got her to try an alternative
Oh and she has Zonealarm free, I got worried by a false alarm recently and asked her to take the plunge, she doesnt seem to mind the incessant ZA pops ups)
Ive thought about changing her to thunderbird with spampal and clammail, but hey, when would I get the time to talk her through installing those babies?
“Is that left click or right click???” AAAGGHH

Ive taught her to be PARANOID, dont open any attachment unless mentioned by a friend in an email from them, else kill it. If pop up, avoid that site. watch what you click on….

Shes been on almost everyday for coming up 2 years, SO FAR NO PROBLEMS…..

(ps. shes makes postcards using her digital camera, or scanner, and sends them to her friends in the post!)

matt :)