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How to stay safe online

As we share more and more online, it's increasingly important to ensure that we keep this information secure.

Now that the internet is used by nearly everyone, it's become more regulated by laws and policies. In many ways, the world wide web has become a lot less lawless than it used to be in its early days — but that doesn't mean it's entirely safe.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the ever-present threat of being hacked and having your details or money stolen, especially now that most of us share this information online across multiple sites.

To help ensure your personal and financial details stay secure, we’ve compiled some easy to follow tips to help you stay safe online.

Not sure about the jargon used for online security? We talk you through the key terms in our guide: Broadband security terms explained

1. Keep your security software up to date

Security software, usually under licence from trusted names such as McAfee, comes free with most broadband packages from larger providers and will keep you safe from the majority of threats, malware, spyware and viruses.

But it’s only useful if you keep it updated.

To avoid having to remember to manually update it, set your security software to update automatically.

2. Take the time to create secure passwords

password security

Despite years of warnings and advice, annual studies conducted by SplashData consistently find, year over year, that 'password' remains the second-most popular password.

The most popular? ‘123456’.

Obvious passwords like these are easy to crack, even for inexperienced users looking to connect to Wi-Fi. To make things as difficult as you can for thieves, mix up numbers and letters and lower- and uppercase characters.

It's also vital to create a different password for each service you use. If you feel you have too many passwords and need to write them down to help you remember them, that's fine, but try to store that information somewhere safe and far away from your computer.

3. Avoid sites likely to host malware

torrent sites illegal downloads

As a rule of thumb, it's the seediest sites on the web that are most likely to host viruses.

That means that to stay safe, you should steer clear of illegal download sites offering you free movies and music, as well as pornographic sites and overseas sites selling counterfeit goods.

4. Keep your browser and operating system updated

firefox homepage

Although most infections are picked up from downloaded content, some sites can infect your computer even if you just land on them. These are so-called ‘drive-by’ viruses that take advantage of weaknesses in your browser or operating system.

Whenever software companies find out about these oversights, they'll update their software with patches to better protect users against them. To keep yourself safe from these, it's important to update your browser and operating system when prompted to. Even better, set them up to update automatically whenever new versions become available.

5. Take advantage of mobile devices’ extra security software

touch id iphone 6

If you’ve got a high-end handset with biometric, fingerprint security, make sure you set it up to take advantage of the extra layer of safety it provides.

You should also be using your phone's PIN security passcode or pattern lock.

6. Treat unsolicited e-mails with extreme care

spam email

If you receive an e-mail from someone you don’t recognise, don’t open it. If you do open it, don’t download attachments or click on any links it contains.

Keep an eye out for phishing scams, too, which send e-mails disguised to look like they're sent on behalf of your friends or companies. If you recognise the name of the sender as a friend but think the tone of the message is out of character or seems suspicious, get in touch with your friend before you click on links or download anything attached to the e-mail.

Finally, exercise some common sense: If you’re being made an offer that sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. And remember not to give your personal information if you’re asked for it.

7. Tighten up your privacy settings on social media

facebook privacy settings

Be careful what you share with people on Facebook and Twitter, and be careful sharing addresses and other identifying information.

To make sure you’re not sharing anything that might help a criminal, tighten up your privacy settings on these sites and regularly check that this information is secure. Keep an eye out for any updates on social media sites' Terms and Conditions, which may change security settings around without warning you.

8. Be extra vigilant with public Wi-Fi

wifi hotspots

Wi-Fi networks are open to abuse because data sent over them is easily intercepted. With this in mind, if you’re on public Wi-Fi, avoid doing any online banking or using any sites that have your credit card details.

Is providers’ security software as good as those from McAfee?

The likes of McAfee and Norton are behind the rebranded security suites that come with packages from the likes of BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk. That means they're every bit as secure.

Confused by the terminology used for broadband? Get up to speed with broadband jargon in our handy guide: Broadband jargon explained.