How can internet service providers promote online safety?

12 February 2024

Guy Miller, CEO, MS3 Networks

Guy Miller, CEO, MS3 Networks

When it comes to internet safety, we all know the dangers of choosing ‘123456’ as a password or clicking links from unrecognised senders. But with online scams becoming increasingly sophisticated, internet service providers (ISPs) have a key role to play in protecting us online.

The latest Ofcom data shows that three-quarters of internet users are confident in spotting a suspicious email. Moreover, six in ten adults can confidently identify a fake social media profile, marking a 5% improvement on 2021 figures.

However, while user confidence in evaluating online threats is growing, so is the number of phishing attempts — with a 173% increase in attacks between the second and third quarters of 2023. The surge in these fraudulent emails, which attempt to trick users into inputting sensitive information such as passwords and credit card information, makes it increasingly difficult for internet users to protect themselves. According to 2023 data, 55% of customers now expect their ISP to protect them against online threats as a core part of their offering. So how can ISPs respond?

Scanning and securing

As the gateway to the internet, ISPs are uniquely placed to support online safety by monitoring and controlling online traffic. During the 2020 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, global telecoms leaders set out four key principles to guide ISPs on protecting internet users.

These principals state that, although providers already protect their own customers by identifying when their network is being used for illegal activity, they must collaborate. By sharing information of detected illegal activity with other ISPs, providers can help stop attempted attacks quickly.

The principles also highlight the need for ISPs to educate customers on how to protect themselves online, as well as to continue developing their technical response to threats.

Finally, providers can promote safe practises by ensuring their supply chains are cybersecure. As hardware is especially vulnerable to attack, ISPs should perform cybersecurity audits on each of their third-party suppliers.

Affordability and assurance

While developing their cybersecurity service offer is key to promoting internet safety, possibly the most important step ISPs can take is to ensure their broadband packages are affordable.

With the internet playing an increasingly important role in daily life, those who cannot afford home broadband may have to rely on public networks.
Currently, 7% of UK households do not have access to the internet, and that number may be set to increase, with one million people disconnecting their broadband in 2022 due to cost of living concerns.

But public networks are particularly affected by online threats such as phishing scams, with one in four regular public WiFi users having experienced a security issue while browsing. Consequently, these networks are unsuitable for sensitive tasks such as online banking and accessing personal information.

This means that affordable broadband packages not only help to close the digital divide, but also provide a safer way to use the internet. For ISPs to offer cost-effective services, they must be able to access network infrastructure at affordable prices.

As the complexity of online threats to internet users increases, so too should the response. While individual actions are essential, these efforts can only go so far in protecting us online. By prioritising security and affordability, ISPs can ensure that all internet users, regardless of income, are protected.