When it comes to internet security, you can never be too safe. We talk through what potential threats there are online, how they manifest and what you can do to protect yourself.
Why is it important to stay secure online?
We share more of our personal information online than ever before, meaning your details are likely stored in multiple locations. You may be able to control some of your stored information, such as browsing history, shopping habits or what content you like to see on your feeds, but this isn’t always the case with your personal details.
When you enter your details, especially on untrusted sites, you may be exposing sensitive information that can be used to access your personal accounts, increasing the probability of fraud and other cyber crimes against you. This is why it's especially important to stay safe when your engaging in activities like shopping online.
With so much personal information stored online – your name, email address and even date of birth are often prerequisites for doing pretty much anything on the web – it’s more important than ever to protect yourself.
When connected to WiFi, if you don’t have internet security then malware can infiltrate your computer. If it does, it means all your personal information, including your passwords, address and even your identity, is at risk.
Malware is intentionally designed to cause damage and steal data. That’s why it’s called malware; it’s malicious software. It can present itself in many different ways, perhaps best known in virus form. Computer viruses spread through corrupt files and infect hosts (your PC) with malicious code, which can then destroy software and steal data. They can be passed on through emails, links or downloads.
Another recognisable form of malware is adware; immensely frustrating pop-ups which, if clicked on, can install malware on your computer. Then there’s ransomware, which blocks access to your files until you make a payment, and worms, which burrow into your software and have the capacity to install further malware.
If that isn’t reason enough to stay secure online, let’s delve a little deeper into two other forms of malware: spyware and spam.
As the name suggests, spyware is malware which spies on you. It essentially watches you whilst on your computer, tracking everything you do. Then, when you enter passwords, bank details or other personal information, it can steal these.
Many broadband deals include spyware protection as part of their security package, however you should always confirm exactly what’s included before you sign up to a package. You can compare broadband deals with usave.
Spam is another form of malware, one which we’re all probably familiar with. Generally, our mail providers sift out rogue emails and pop them in our spam folders, so that we’re not bombarded with relentless fake adverts containing malicious links.
But sometimes spam emails can pose as established companies, such as your bank or mobile provider, encouraging you to click on links. This is called phishing. As a general rule of thumb, you will never be asked for your personal details for an account – be that a bank or other – by email. Try to avoid opening emails of this type and clicking on any links, regardless of how legitimate they look. If you want to know more then check out our guide on how to deal with scam emails.
How to stay safe online
To start with, you should always be vigilant and cautious about suspicious links, websites and downloads, especially from companies you haven’t heard of or offers that seem too good to be true.
There are also many other things you can do to ramp up your internet security; here are a few key points.
Ensure your firewall is turned on
Your home computer is on a private, or trusted, network. But when you connect to a public, untrusted network ( i.e. the internet) a gateway is essentially opened, meaning that anyone could hack your accounts or access your personal information. Firewalls are a security barrier that prevents this.
Don’t worry if this all sounds alien – most operating systems come with firewalls already installed. But to ensure your connection is safe, always keep your firewall turned on.
Use strong passwords
We all have a tendency to choose passwords that are easy to remember: our pet, our better half, our favourite sports. Though easy to keep in mind they are ineffective when it comes to internet security.
To bolster your security, you need strong passwords which are a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Moreover, you should vary your passwords – try to use different ones for each account, and frequently change them.
If remembering your details is a real concern, consider signing up to a password manager, such as Lastpass or Dashlane. They’re completely safe, legitimate programs that’ll store all your passwords so you don’t have to; you simply remember one master password to access it.
Install anti-virus or anti-spyware software
Norton, AVG and McAfee are all credible third-party internet security providers. You can buy or download deals from them in order to protect your computer, however you must ensure you run updates whenever you’re prompted to. If you don’t, any harmful spyware could potentially outwit your current version of the software.
Bear in mind though that most new computers running on both Windows and Mac have antivirus software built in.
Adding parental controls
If you have children then you'll want to make sure that they aren't able to access website's that could be unsuitable for them or a security risk for your device so it's important that you set up parental controls to prevent this.
Does broadband come with internet security?
Thankfully, many of the most established broadband providers offer internet security as part of their packages. Sky, BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Plusnet all have their own software which can protect against malware, viruses and phishing, though even lesser-known ISPs will include this. We've even done a rundown on which provider has the best online security to save you the hassle.
They all offer content filters too, which means access to potentially harmful sites – whether ones with inappropriate material, potential threats or viruses – will be restricted. If you’ve got children, you may want to look out for filters in particular when you compare broadband deals.