Inclusive Cybersecurity: How to ensure digital safety is for everyone

By guest blogger, Annie Button

Person working on code on laptop and on mobile smartphone on deskIn today's digital age, cybersecurity is a concern for everyone. Just as it is becoming harder for businesses to recruit cybersecurity specialists, there has also been a spike in the number of cybercrimes taking place. Businesses, organisations, and individuals must do everything they can to ensure that they don’t make it easy for criminals. 

However, not everyone has equal access to the necessary tools and information to protect themselves online. People with disabilities, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations often face unique challenges with regard to both digital accessibility and staying safe in the digital world. 

In this article, we will explore some of the problems with cybersecurity and inclusivity, as well as ways to make cybersecurity more accessible to everyone.

Disabilities can make phishing harder to spot

One major issue faced by people with disabilities when it comes to cybersecurity is the difficulty in identifying phishing scams. For people with poor vision, it can be challenging to read and interpret the text and images in an email or message, making it easier to fall for a scam.

Additionally, people with memory problems may struggle to remember complex passwords, leading them to use much simpler or more obvious passwords. This will make their accounts easier to break into from the perspective of a hacker. 

Utilising screen readers and other assistive technology can make it easier for people with visual impairments to navigate the internet. For those who struggle to remember a number of long and complicated passwords, it could be worth using a password manager, as these only require remembering one master password to get into all accounts. 

Compromising security 

Money spread around with the word Fraud written on paper amongst themAnother issue is the need for different forms of assistance to go online. For example, individuals who require carers to enter private passwords on their behalf may have their privacy compromised. This can be a major concern for those who wish to maintain their independence and autonomy.

To address these issues, there are several steps that individuals can take to make themselves safer online. For example, using a form of multi-factor authentication could ensure that if someone does ever try to enter their account using a password, they would also need additional factors such as biometric data.

Vulnerable people are targets of cybercrime

Cybercrime disproportionately targets the elderly, as well as other vulnerable members of society because they may be less inclined to question suspicious or compromising situations. Criminals can infiltrate communities, posing as people with disabilities in order to manipulate individuals.

To limit disruption to IT networks Head of Threat Intelligence, George Glass at Redscan points to the value of “responding to, managing and mitigating cyber security incidents with incident response plans which, once implemented, can be relied on to restore operations as quickly as possible”. 

Unfortunately, older and vulnerable people are targeted by cyber criminals in many ways within an organisation or community they belong to by sophisticated scams that can be very convincing. In recent years, older people are reportedly targeted on average every 40 seconds by fraudulent scammers.

In addition to fake emails and dodgy phishing scams, vulnerable people can also fall foul of sweetheart scams and malicious dating invitations due in part to the widespread access to and popularity of social media.

You may be interested in AbilityNet's free webinar playback: How to spot an online scam and avoid it: Stay safe online

Language barriers

One important aspect of inclusive cybersecurity is ensuring that information and resources are available in multiple languages.

For non-native speakers or those with limited proficiency in the dominant language of the internet, understanding and navigating online security can be difficult. This can also be an issue for indigenous communities and other marginalised groups. 

Providing information and resources in multiple languages can help bridge this gap and ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to stay safe online.

Ensuring tools and products are accessible 

Another important aspect of inclusive cybersecurity is making sure that digital tools and platforms can be accessed by people with various physical and cognitive abilities.

This includes designing interfaces that are easy to navigate and understand, as well as providing options for users to adjust font size, contrast, and other visual settings. 

Additionally, providing keyboard shortcuts and other alternatives to mouse use can make it easier for people with mobility impairments to access digital tools and platforms.

How to make cybersecurity more inclusive 

Websites and social media platforms also have a role to play in making the internet more inclusive. For example, providing accessible design and user interfaces can make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate and use these platforms. (You can learn more about accessible design and inclusive recruitment in AbilityNet's training courses. See the special 25% discount offer below.) 

Once again, implementing two-factor authentication sits alongside other security measures that can help protect vulnerable users from cybercrime.

Inclusive cybersecurity also means recognising and accommodating the strengths of different perspectives and backgrounds.

Research has shown that diverse teams are more effective at identifying and mitigating cyber threats. For example, women and other underrepresented groups can bring new perspectives and approaches to problem-solving, leading to more effective and innovative solutions.

Man drawing diagram on large presentation paper with woman looking on

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Ensure underrepresented groups are involved

A key way to increase diversity within the world of cybersecurity is by encouraging and supporting underrepresented groups to pursue careers in this field. This includes providing mentorship, networking opportunities, and targeted education and training programs. 

Given the current shortage of qualified staff successfully filling cybersecurity roles, this offers strong opportunity to welcome a wider and more diverse set of people into these roles. Additionally this highlights the importance of addressing unconscious bias and discrimination in the hiring process and to create a more inclusive culture within cybersecurity organisations. 

Cybersecurity is a concern for everyone, but not everyone has equal access to the necessary tools and information to protect themselves online. By addressing the unique challenges faced by people with disabilities, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations, we can work towards creating a more inclusive digital world. 

Further resources

Blog: 10 scams to be aware of - Autumn Scam Watch 2022

Factsheet: Internet scams and how to avoid them