Skip to main content
Random people using mobile phones

How to stay safe online

Now decades into its life, in many ways the world wide web is a lot less lawless than it used to be in its early days.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the ever-present threat of being hacked and having your details or money stolen.

To help ensure that doesn't happen to you, 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) Ensure your security software is 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.

That doesn’t mean you have to keep manually updating it. Just make sure you’ve set your security software to update automatically.

2) Take the time to create secure passwords

password security

A study conducted by SplashData found that despite years of warnings, ‘password’ remains the second-most popular password.

It was beaten in the popularity stakes only by the even more obvious ‘123456’.

To make things as difficult as you can for thieves, mix up numbers and letters and lower and upper case characters.

It’s also vital to create a different password for each service you use.

If you feel you have to write your passwords 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

Most infections are picked up from downloaded content. However, some sites can infect your computer even if you just land on them.

These are so-called ‘drive-by’ viruses.

To protect yourself from these it’s important to update your browser and operating system when prompted to.

Or 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.

6) Treat unsolicited emails with extreme care

spam email

If you receive an email from someone you don’t recognise, don’t open it.

And if you do open it, don’t download anything attached to it or click on any links it contains.

If you recognise the name of the sender as a friend or acquaintance 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 email.

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.

6) 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.

7) Be extra vigilant with public WiFi

wifi hotspots

WiFi networks are open to abuse because data sent over them is easily intercepted.

With this in mind, if you’re on public WiFi avoid doing any online banking or using a social site or shopping 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, 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