It’s easy to be confused by all the technical jargon around broadband, especially when it relates to your security. In reality, it’s not too complicated once you know what everything means and you're aware of what measures you can take to protect yourself.
The battle against viruses is very hard to fight, mostly because we can only act on a virus once it's there and we've seen it.
A lot of viruses and spyware exhibit the same behaviour and are quite easy to spot, but the most sophisticated ones are a lot more difficult to identify. A trojan horse exploit will disguise itself as a useful program and, once it's been allowed, go on to infect a system.
The other issue is the motivation behind them. A lot of malware and viruses are designed by people who like to mess with things for no specific reason. For them, there is no direct purpose apart from 'because I can'. This makes it difficult to protect against malware because whatever you do, someone will break it just because it's there.
Why is broadband security an issue?
The reason you are at risk from viruses and hackers when you are online is the fact that the internet is a free flow of information. While this means that you can access websites, it also means that other people can access your personal data by manipulating the open ports on your computer.
This is particularly relevant to broadband which is an 'always on' connection. This means that people can access your information even when you're not actively using the internet.
What does it all mean?
Adware is the most innocuous of security threats because it doesn't steal or destroy anything. It just looks at all the sites you visit and bombards you with pop-ups, spam and targeted advertising. These 'ad bots' can seriously slow down your computer and connection speed.
Cookies are designed to put a 'marker' on your hard drive so that certain websites can remember you every time you visit and store your login information or preferences. Usually they are harmless and are mostly used by websites that you visit frequently, such as social networks and online shopping sites.
A firewall is a boundary, or a system of boundaries, between the information stored on your computer and the internet-borne viruses that it can be susceptible to. It protects you by blocking out well-known viruses and recognising the weaknesses in your defence system so that they can be repaired.
Malware is designed to cause problems. Depending on the program, it can cause your PC to crash, erase data or do unwanted things on your behalf.
Phishing is a type of e-mail scam where someone attempts to get personal information from you by pretending to be someone you know or an online service you regularly use, like a bank or online shopping site. One of the most common examples is an e-mail that looks like it's sent from a bank which asks you to verify your PIN, card number or address, then uses any information you share for fraudulent purposes.
A port is just a connection for data, like a letter box that information comes in and out of. There are thousands of software ports on your computer. Different software use different ports, and while most are available for anything, some are always fixed to the same program. The problem is that open ports, like open letterboxes, sometimes allow in things you don't want. Hackers can gain access to your computer by looking to see which ports are open (an illegal activity known as port-scanning) and then gain access through them.
Spam is another word for junk mail — e-mails that you receive from unknown senders that are usually trying to sell you something, often a miracle cure for hair loss, diet pills or something similar. E-mails that tell you you've won a competition you never even entered are another common type of spam.
Spyware is a type of programme that secretly watches what you are doing online. It tracks which websites you’ve visited and, more importantly, knows what personal information you have entered on those sites.
If you're up to speed on your Greek mythology, you probably have a good idea of what trojan horses are. Trojan horses are seemingly innocent programmes that embed themselves in another programme. Like a small army of angry Greeks hiding inside a wooden horse, a trojan waits inside a trusted programme until your guard is down, then unleashes itself and all hell breaks loose on your computer. Trojans cause serious problems and steal serious data.
A virus is simply a computer programme that you don't want. They can spread, infect and replicate themselves on your device, hence the name. Different viruses do different things. Some can be destructive to settings and apps, some steal data, and some just mess with things for the fun of it. Regardless of whatever marketing pitch you've heard, viruses can happen on any computer: Macs, PCs, Linux machines, watches, phones, cars and handhelds are all susceptible to viruses.
Wireless Broadband Security
Perhaps the biggest security issue you will face relates to your own home wireless broadband. If you don't take the time to set up a secure wireless network, you may be exposed to people hacking your wireless network (also known as a WLAN) and stealing details from your personal computer. Hackers who pursue wireless network security flaws are engaging in what's sometimes called 'wardriving'. Even if they don't steal anything, they're still making you pay for their connection.
If you set up your home wireless network with proper security, this isn't a problem you are likely to face. Simply follow your broadband provider's instructions for setting up your wireless network properly and you won't be exposed. Keep in mind that WEP security is no longer very secure and can be broken very quickly. WPA security is stronger, but the best security to use on your wireless network is WPA2.
How can I defend myself?
To secure your computer's privacy, you should install some internet security software and set up your wireless network with full security measures on WPA2. There are lots of great software packages on the market, which are constantly being updated to combat new viruses. The most popular and comprehensive ones are produced by companies such as McAfee and Norton and include features such as antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall.
Most new computers now come with pre-installed antivirus software, so it may not be necessary to buy a new solution. If your computer is unprotected, there are a number of free programmes available, like AVG, all of which have full versions ready to purchase, too. Your broadband ISP might provide a security package as part of your contract, so check with them to see if that's available. And don't overlook your devices — most smartphones and tablets have apps you can use to protect your information.