Reducing Cyber Vulnerabilities in Underserved Populations

The University of California, Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) has published “Improving Cybersecurity Awareness in Underserved Populations” report that focuses on cyber vulnerabilities among the ‘underserved’ residents of San Francisco, including low-income residents, foreign-born or foreign-language speakers, and seniors.  As cybersecurity represents a relatively recent yet significant concern to individual citizens, the goal of this report is to highlight the systematic impact of the “digital divide” among populations of various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Significantly, while the accessibility to online services is improving, some populations still face greater danger of being victimized by a cyber attack. The report points to a significant percentage of underserved residents who have lower awareness of cybersecurity risks and therefore suffer disproportionately from cyber-enabled scams. Consequently, many of these individuals are less willing to use necessary online services including banking, health services, or educational programs. Equally, a large number of underserved residents lack skills or motivation to improve their cyber-hygiene practices.

The report includes the following key findings:

  • Underserved individuals are likely to fall further behind compared to other internet users without any additional help;
  • Reliance on friends and relatives provides only partially accurate information on cyber security practices;
  • Many affected individuals tend to fall for scams multiple times, which further erodes their confidence in the online service providers;
  • In many instances, affected individuals have limited knowledge of how to recognize and report cyber crimes.

The goal of this publication is twofold: it describes the urgent need to reduce vulnerabilities among underserved populations, and it provides a framework of recommendations to address this issue. By drawing from San Francisco’s example, the report aims to facilitate public policy development across U.S. cities in promoting cybersecurity awareness, including digital literacy training and actionable public-private initiatives.

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