Be secure online
When you use the internet, you may be connected to thousands of other computers that you are exchanging information and data with, including personal details. It is important to make sure your computer, your information and your privacy are as secure as possible.
How your computer could be at risk
Most people store a lot of personal information on their computers. If you don’t protect your computer properly when you are online, it’s possible that personal details could be stolen or deleted without you even realising.
Your computer can be attacked in a number of ways over the internet. Viruses and spy-ware can delete files and allow criminals to scan your computer for personal information. Your computer could even be hacked (where a person gains access to your computer through your wireless network).
Get Safe Online has detailed information about the risks to your computer and how to deal with them.
Being aware of the risks
Viruses are destructive software that can run on your computer without you knowing. They spread through the internet and emails by copying themselves to documents and programs on your computer. Viruses can cause damage by deleting files and can allow criminals to monitor your computer and steal personal information. They can slow down your computer and take days to remove.
Spy-ware is software that's often downloaded with other software, like music sharing software. It can allow criminals to scan your computer for information stored on it, install pop up advertisements, and let viruses through.
A botnet is a network of virus-infected computers that are used together and can be remotely controlled. The attacker can then have access to the computers and use them for malicious activities such as sending spam. All this can be done without the users of the computer knowing what is happening.
Security measures you can take
Using the most up-to-date version of your operating system
Your operating system is the main piece of software controlling your computer. The most common systems in use are Microsoft Windows (used on PCs), Macintosh OS (used on Macs) and Linux (used on Linux computers).
All new computers come with this software installed. The most recent version of the software is usually the most secure. Updates are usually available from the software manufacturer, and are free to download.
- How to protect your PC - Get safe online website
- How to protect your Mac - Get safe online website
- How to protect your Linux computer - Get safe online website
Make sure you have a desktop firewall in place
A firewall is software or hardware that acts as a filter between your computer or network and the internet. Using a firewall prevents unauthorised access to your computer and is designed to stop worms (another type of malicious software).
Desktop firewalls for individual computers are available in high street shops. Some operating systems have built-in firewalls but it's best to check with the manufacturer and find out if it provides adequate protection.
Using up-to-date antivirus software
Antivirus software will check your computer for viruses and alerts you of any it recognises. It's important to keep this software up to date, as new viruses are being created all the time.
Use strong passwords
Many websites use passwords to protect your identity. If passwords get into the wrong hands or are easy to guess, your personal details will be easily accessible. Using strong passwords is especially important when you're spending money online. Good passwords should:
- never be shared - including with helpline staff - written down or observed
- be at least seven characters long
- be a mixture of lower and upper case letters, numbers and other keyboard characters
- changed regularly - every three months is a good guide
- not be the same on all the sites you use
Log off and collect print-outs
If you’re accessing a site where you have provided personal details or a password, always log off and close your browser window when you've finished. This is especially important if you are using a shared computer – for example, in an internet café or a library.
Make sure you collect anything you print out from the printer, or your personal details might fall into the wrong hands.
Monitoring your family's use of the internet
Make sure everyone's aware of internet safety issues - especially young people - who may use file-sharing programmes, instant messaging and chatrooms more than adults. Think about restricting sites they can view and what they can download. It's usually possible do this through the settings on your browser, or you can buy separate software.
A scam is an illegal scheme that tries to trick you out of your money. Online scams use the internet and email to do this.
If you think you discover a scam, either on the internet or otherwise, you can report it using the link below.
Shopping safely online
There are a few steps you can take to shop online safely and keep your financial details secure.
Before you buy
Before you buy online, note down the address, telephone and/or fax of the company you’re buying from. Never rely on just an email address.
Always use secure sites
Sites with 'https' in front of the web address mean the company has been independently checked to make sure it is genuine. A yellow padlock symbol will appear in the browser window to show the payment process is secure.
When buying online:
- never transfer or receive money for someone else
- check the site's privacy and returns policy
- print out a copy of your order and any acknowledgement you receive
- check your bank statement carefully against anything you buy online
- keep your passwords secure
- take your time making decisions that involve parting with money
- get independent financial advice before making investments
- only do business with companies you recognise or have been recommended by someone you trust - don't judge a company on how professional their website looks
- if in doubt, check a company is genuine by looking them up on Companies House or the Financial Services Authority (FSA) websites
- Internet shopping (government, citizens and rights section)
Other ways to stay secure
- avoid disclosing personal information as much as possible
- only open email attachments from people you know
- be careful about sharing files and downloading software, as these can easily spread viruses and hide spy-ware
For more help on staying safe from internet fraud see the article 'How to avoid online fraud' or visit the 'makeITsecure' website for top tips.