UK consumers urged to stay safe online amid ‘heightened international tensions’

UK and Commonwealth consumers have been urged to be even more cautious with their digital activity amid “heightened international tensions”.

UK and Commonwealth consumers have been urged to be even more cautious with their digital activity amid “heightened international tensions”.

The warning from UK government minister for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) James Cleverly came at a panel led by non-profit organisation Get Safe Online.

The organisation surveyed more than 5,200 adults online in February ahead of its Global24 event, which was in cooperation with the FCDO.

The research found that more than nine in ten adults across 22 Commonwealth nations are unaware that email passwords and access to personal and business email accounts are the top target for criminals and other malicious actors. Instead, bank accounts were classed as the most important log-in details for professional hackers, despite the breadth of personal information our email accounts provide.

The pinnacle of this years’ Global24 was a strategic conference with participation from cybersecurity experts and local governmental stakeholders from the 24 countries that Get Safe Online operates within. Senior representatives from the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific gathered to discuss key findings from the research and share knowledge and practice on how best to prevent online crime amongst their citizens. The conference was opened by His Excellency, Omar Daair, British High Commissioner to Rwanda, followed by a welcome video statement from the Right Honorable James Cleverly MP.

The findings and results of this Commonwealth led conference will be collaborated into a Get Safe Online Global24 White Paper which will be launched later this month.

The timing of the Global24 event and research is particularly significant due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the work and learn-from-home restrictions many nations have faced or are now facing for the first time, as we are witnessing in the Pacific region. With COVID-19 accelerating digital transformation, many more people around the world have now started using PCs, laptops and other internet-enabled devices for everyday tasks.

Online platforms and services use email as a way of providing security and access to private documents, credentials, and other important information, from bank account details to memberships. This is often supplemented by Two Factor Authentication, where a user is asked to confirm access to a platform or portal through their email account.

Email accounts therefore sit at the intersection between many people’s real and digital lives. This also means that they are a desirable target for cybercriminals and other malicious actors, who try and hack, phish or scam their way into people’s lives and bank accounts via their email.

But despite email passwords acting as a gateway to a vast amount of personal information, only 7% of respondents thought them to be a top target. Instead, more than three quarters of respondents (78%) said bank accounts were the main priority for hackers and 5% considered social media accounts to be a key target. The following case study provides an insight into the far-reaching damage fraudulent email access can cause.