Picture credit: https://flic.kr/p/54maFu
Picture credit: https://flic.kr/p/54maFu

Fears around the Investigatory Powers Bill could be forcing unwitting web users into the hands of hackers and scammers, according to a study by a Manchester-based security and surveillance consultancy.

Forty-four percent of over-55s surveyed said they would consider downloading software to protect themselves from government snooping. The survey from The Online Spy Shop makes no mention of whether participants in the research were asked about the Tor browser, though some debate Tor's ability to give a user complete anonymity.

This apparent willingness to trust so-called privacy software potentially leaves a significant proportion of older web users vulnerable to scams and hacks as cyber-criminals seek to exploit privacy fears.

The Online Spy Shop study also shows that:

  • Sixty-seven percent of British adults admit they have changed, or are considering changing, their browsing and search habits in an effort to avoid the reaches of the Investigatory Powers Bill.

  • But fewer than one in 10 (nine percent) 18-24 year olds would consider downloading software to protect themselves from the Bill, compared to the national average of 18 percent.

Steve Roberts, a former close protection agent who now runs Manchester-based surveillance and security consultancy Online Spy Shop, has warned how the new Bill might force less experienced web users into the hands of cyber-criminals.

“Based on how they've leveraged privacy fears in the past, I've no doubt that data thieves and hackers are already working on fake privacy solutions to exploit worried web users.

“Innocent web users shouldn't react to the Investigatory Powers Bill by trying to ‘cover their tracks' in a hurry. Hastily downloading so-called privacy apps could actually lead to more problems for your security.”

He advised nervous Internet users to consider using encryption and two-factor authentication for extra privacy and security and warned against a drastic change in the way users browse the web.

“It's probable that a sudden change in how you use the web, for example by adopting a number of browsing concealment techniques, will be more interesting to the snoopers than whether or not you searched Google for information on terrorism, crime or drugs. It's relatively unlikely that conventional web use will set alarm bells ringing.

“That said, your telephone provider and Internet service provider will be keeping your call and browsing data on file for a rolling year. My advice would be to focus on security over privacy.

“A lot of the steps you can take to protect your security will also improve privacy, so they're worth considering. For example, encrypted chat and emails are a smart step if you want to protect business or private information from interception.

“A non-UK based virtual private network (VPN) or a proxy server can prevent your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from tracking and recording your browsing history.

“The ISP will know you accessed a proxy server or VPN, but not which sites you visited once connected. This approach will mean that some sites may not function as they should and loading times may be slower. For example, you may struggle to use Netflix and iPlayer properly but it will help tackle against an opportunist hacker.

“Mobile phones are now fast becoming a financial vulnerability too and wherever possible an anti-virus should be installed. There is also specialised protection software for Android and iOS which secures your handset in real-time".