How can internet service providers promote online safety?

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 spottinga suspicious email. Moreover, six in ten adults can confidently identify a fake social media profile, marking a five per cent improvement on 2021 figures.

However, while user confidence in evaluating online threats is growing, so is the number of phishing attempts — with a 173 per cent 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 per cent 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 

Around 13 million requests for risky domains are made each day. 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 providers must collaborate to put a stop to their networks being used for illegal activity. Providers already protect their own customers by monitoring web traffic to determine how and when the network is being used. This not only allows ISPs to determine when customers are being targeted, but also helps to prevent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks where cybercriminals flood servers with traffic to force a site offline. However, putting systems in place that allow for the sharing of credible threat reports to other ISPs means providers can help stop attempted attacks more effectively.

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. This could include signposting customers to internet safety information, as well as solutions such as safe search, which acts as a filter against potentially harmful content.

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 cannotafford home broadband may have to rely on public networks. 

Currently, seven per cent 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 Wi-Fi 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. Alternative networks, or ‘altnets’, provide a viable way of doing this by building their own independent full fibre network infrastructure. Previously, affordable broadband plans often offered slow internet speeds, but futureproofed full fibre infrastructure enables speeds of up to one Gigabit per second(Gbps), allowing users to carry out online tasks more efficiently.

Internet users can connect to the network through one of the altnet’s ISP partners, which offer maximum choice and affordability due to increased competition. For householdswho struggle to afford one of these packages, altnets such as MS3 offer their partners subsidised social tariffs, which allow them to pass on the savings to end customers.

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.

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Guy Miller
CEO at MS3 Networks | + posts

With over 20 years of experience in telecoms, Guy Miller is the CEO of wholesale-only full fibre network operator, MS3 Networks. MS3 offers ultrafast broadband to customers across the North of England, improving choice and affordability through its network of internet service provider (ISP) partnerships.

Guy Miller

With over 20 years of experience in telecoms, Guy Miller is the CEO of wholesale-only full fibre network operator, MS3 Networks. MS3 offers ultrafast broadband to customers across the North of England, improving choice and affordability through its network of internet service provider (ISP) partnerships.

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