Ben Rimmer – Northumbria University, UK

What contextual factors make older adults unique?

In the cSALSA project we explore the life changes facing older adults who have retired or are in the process of retiring, trying to see how these life changes might lead to new cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Literature tends to concern decline, clumping older adults together, which fails to highlight their diversity as a population. This is important because Vines et al. (2015) points to the impact of social connectedness, diversity in health, financial stability, technological skills, mobility and engagement across older adults. Hence, with the cSALSA project we are in the process of developing an understanding of the cybersecurity vulnerabilities of older adults living in three main contexts: (i) Living independent, but isolated lives with weak social ties, therefore being less able to share in the peer learning that occurs in social networks, (ii) those with strong social ties, but have health vulnerabilities, so are less mobile and more likely to be reliant on healthcare technologies, and (iii) those who are ageing well with good levels of social and family support.

Why do you think aging is an interesting area to research?

Ageing research is important because this population frequently presents unique areas, such as palliative care and support for independence. This highlights the demand to address diversity in older adult populations. Conducting this research comes with challenges surrounding the recruitment of appropriate samples and hard to reach groups, such as those who live independently in isolation. This is important because some research is dominated by ‘well heeled’ older adults, which again does not capture the diversity within the population. The inclusive design of research in older adults is relevant to the wider CHI community, because development that is right for older adults is often transferable to others. An example of this is Nicholson et al. (2013)’s inclusion of older adults in the development of a graphical authentication paradigm.

What themes have you explored in your work?

As part of the cSALSA project I am developing an extensive database to assess the appropriateness of existing measures of cyber literacy. This will inform the development of a measure that captures the cyber vulnerabilities of an older adult population. At the current stage, it appears that privacy behavior and knowledge sharing scales are focused on the working adult population, which lacks transferability to the aforementioned three contexts of older adult being explored in cSALSA. This is important because having a measure to capture cybersecurity vulnerabilities in older adults, will emphasize what threats and consequences are deemed important to address. In addition I am currently investigating the experiences of older adults with health needs interacting with health technologies. This will address the strengths and pitfalls of these technologies, thus helping to inform their future development.

What research methods have you used to engage older adults in the design process or otherwise elicit relevant design criteria?

Currently, my design process mainly pertains to the development of the aforementioned database. This is an important part of the process because when utilized, having a reliable tool to assess cyber literacy in older adults could help to identify target areas in each individual’s technological ability and understanding.
Furthermore, plans to directly engage older adults in the future concern semi-structured interviews in the case of those with health needs using health technologies. This will allow them to provide more detail regarding the benefits and difficulties when using these technologies.

Also, in relation to recent workshops as part of an Innovate project ‘Reimagining cybersecurity training’, it may be beneficial to run a focus group with older adults still in work to discuss digitization in the workplace. This could pertain to explicit discussion about online training, but also ways in which they feel computer literacy is pivotal to achieving their work goals.
Moreover, with particular regards to social connectedness, sociograms could be used to get older adults in the right frame of mind, as demonstrated by Nicholson et al. (2019). This concerns a graphical representation of an individual’s social ties, thus helping them to visualize their social network when thinking about support in technology use.

What aspects of aging, or what challenges in aging research, will continue to be relevant in decades to come, and why?

In years to come, older adult vulnerabilities will always be there, especially if there is more of a focus on digitization (e.g. remote health support). Due to this, it is important to identify what successful ageing is and develop ways to promote a thriving retirement. To address this, research should consider an inclusive design to ensure that the diverse needs of the older adult population are being addressed.

How will applications of the future differ from today for older adults?

As the current ‘connected generation’ are getting older, it is important to develop the ability to stay connected 24/7, to address vulnerabilities surrounding weak social ties and distant support networks. One avenue may be the growth of the gig economy (i.e. Uber and Airbnb), which could offer both social and income opportunities for older adults. However, it is important to consider global perspectives, as the situation for older adults in the global south will differ from those in tech societies. Consequently, current challenges faced will likely stay the same over time for ‘global south’ countries.

What are you hoping to get out of attending this workshop?

As a new researcher on the cSALSA project, working on cyber vulnerabilities in older adults, I hope to gain valuable insights from like-minded researchers in this area, which could help me develop and improve my research methodology going forward in this project. Similarly, through listening to the different challenges people face in this research area, I hope to gain an understanding of how these can be overcome from various perspectives. Ultimately, this will be a great opportunity to hear about other ongoing research projects to increase my understanding of current developments in this area.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Prior to starting work on the cSALSA project, I submitted a paper through involvement in research on family connectedness, more particularly familial sentiment and variance in closeness to family and friends. I aim to transfer my understanding of this area into my work on the cSALSA project, with regards to social connectedness in older adults, as this is a pertinent area of diversity in this population.


Simanko, V., Rimmer, B., & Pollet, T. (2019, January 21). No evidence that middleborns feel less close to family and closer to friends than other birth orders.


  1. Nicholson, J., Coventry, L., & Briggs, P. (2013, April). Age-related performance issues for PIN and face-based authentication systems. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 323-332). ACM.
  2. Nicholson, J., Coventry, L., & Briggs, P. (2019). “If It’s Important It Will Be A Headline”: Cybersecurity Information Seeking in Older Adults. In proceedings of CHI 2019.
  3. Vines, J., Pritchard, G., Wright, P., Olivier, P., & Brittain, K. (2015). An age-old problem: Examining the discourses of ageing in HCI and strategies for future research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 22(1), 2.