How to stay safe online

There are four key things you can do to improve your online safety:

  1. Improve your WiFi security: Secure your connection with a password

  2. Install antivirus software: Minimise the threat of viruses and cyber crime

  3. Safety on public WiFi: Safeguard your personal information

  4. Set up parental controls: Protect your children online by restricting internet access

Improve WiFi security

There are several ways to improve the security of your broadband connection:

Change your WiFi password

Your broadband router usually comes with a password but changing it to something unique will improve your WiFi security and make it easier to remember.

Changing your WiFi password is easy, you just need to:

  • Find your IP address, username and current password. They should be clearly labelled on the bottom of your router or in your user manual.

  • Type the IP address into your web browser and press enter.

  • Enter your username and current password. This will take you to your router's setup page, where you can change your password and adjust your other WiFi settings.

A weak password is easier for unauthorised users to hack, so change your password to something strong that will be difficult for anyone other than you to guess.

Encrypt your wireless

Do you need to encrypt your WiFi?

Yes, if you access your bank statements, enter credit card details, or personal contact information online.

Encryption scrambles your wireless signal so that your data is protected from unauthorised access.

This stops third parties connecting to your broadband and ensures any private data you enter online cannot be accessed.

The most common and secure form of encryption is WPA, which stands for WiFi Protected Access.

You can find guides on how to encrypt your wireless with the following suppliers:

Change or hide your WiFi name

Your WiFi name is the name you give your broadband connection to distinguish it from other networks nearby. It is sometimes called a service set identifier (SSID).

Hiding or changing the name of your SSID will help guard you against hackers trying to access your broadband, or neighbours piggybacking your connection for free.

You can hide or change your SSID in the router setup page. Make sure your WiFi name is random but memorable, and does not contain personal details like your name, as this will make it more difficult to guess.

Move your router

Where you place your router affects how far your wireless signal reaches, so avoid putting it close to windows as your signal will leak and be accessible to your neighbours.

Try moving the antenna on your router so that it faces away from neighbouring walls or windows.

Your WiFi signal is transmitted equally in all directions, so if your router is near an external wall some of your signal could leak out. Move your router to a more central spot and you should get good signal wherever you are in the house.

Restrict your wireless signal

If you think a neighbour is hijacking your WiFi connection, you can reduce the range of your wireless signal with a directional antenna.

They work by shortening or redirecting your wireless network, so your signal will be out of range to your neighbours.

Watch out: This can affect your own access, so change your wireless password and WiFi name first if you suspect someone of hijacking your connection.

Protect against malware

Here are the main types of malicious software (malware) you are most likely to encounter:

  • Virus: A piece of code that attaches itself to clean files and then spreads, damaging your computer and deleting or corrupting your files. Viruses can be transmitted through email attachments, unknown files or unauthorised websites.

  • Spam: Junk mail or mail you receive from unknown senders. They are sent in bulk to lots of recipients and often advertise bogus products, request financial aid, or announce that you have won a competition you have never heard of.

  • Spyware: Tracks the websites you visit and the personal information you enter, like your bank details. It is difficult to remove and it can cause your computer to slow down or crash completely.

  • Adware: Similar to spyware, adware monitors the sites you visit and then targets you with excessive pop-ups, spam and targeted advertising. This will significantly slow down your computer and your broadband speed.

  • Trojan: These hide themselves within seemingly harmless programmes to gain access to your computer. They can collect personal information, pick holes in your security and even take over your computer.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself against malware:

Install antivirus software

Antivirus software scans your computer for viruses and other malware and deletes infected files. It can also be set to block pop-ups and stop access to dangerous websites.

Most broadband companies offer the option to include antivirus protection and plenty of antivirus software is free to download.

Turn on your firewall

This acts as a barrier to prevent any unwanted data getting onto your computer.

Most routers come with a firewall already built in but you can install extra software onto your laptop or computer for added protection.

This may disrupt your network access, particularly if you spend a lot of time gaming, so you may need to change your settings when a site is legitimate.

Scan for cookies

Cookies are small files that websites use to remember your information, like passwords or login details.

They are usually harmless but they can also be used by spyware to gain access to your sensitive information.

AVG include tracker cookie scanning in their free antivirus software.

You can also turn off cookies in your browser by following the steps in these guides:

Set up your spam filter

Spam filters allow you to set rules for unknown or unwanted email, so that they are automatically deleted or filed as junk before they enter your inbox.

Most email providers will include the option to filter spam in your email settings and if you include antivirus software in your broadband package, you will have even higher levels of protection.

Stay safe on public WiFi

Sometimes you will need to connect to public WiFi when you are away from home. This could be on a long train journey, in student accommodation, or in a hotel or in a city centre.

There are a few habits you should get into to stay safe when you are using a public network:

  1. 1.

    Check the WiFi you are connecting to: The name of the network alone does not confirm that the connection is legitimate or safe. Ask a member of staff for the name of their WiFi to avoid logging on to a rogue network.

  2. 2.

    Only access secure websites: You should avoid accessing sites that require you to log in when using public WiFi. If you need to access sensitive data, make sure you use websites that start with HTTPS for added security.

  3. 3.

    Never install software: This could introduce viruses onto your device so avoid downloading anything until you are connected to your trusted home network.

  4. 4.

    Turn off your WiFi: Once you have finished browsing, turning off your WiFi prevents your device from automatically connecting to any unsecured networks.

Set up parental controls

Parental controls can help you:

  • Filter and block inappropriate content, like violence or pornography

  • Restrict the sharing of personal information, like contact details

  • Prevent unauthorised spending

  • Set time limits on how long your children are online

  • Control the time of day your children access the internet

  • Set profiles for each family member to access the content most appropriate for them

Where can you set parental controls?

There are a variety of measures to help keep your children secure online:

  1. 1.

    Home broadband: Most suppliers provide the option to turn on and customise parental controls. These filters are usually provided for free and will restrict any device connected to your home broadband according to the filters you set.

  2. 2.

    Internet enabled devices: Smartphones, tablets, laptops and games consoles all offer the option to restrict content you want to keep from your child. Some also let you restrict how much time your child spends online or stop your child from spending.

  3. 3.

    Entertainment platforms: Services like YouTube, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime let you set age restrictions to keep unsuitable content from your children. Netflix also lets you create individual profiles for every member of your family.

  4. 4.

    Search engines: Most search engines allow you to set up filters to help block inappropriate or explicit content from search results, like Google SafeSearch. You could also try using child friendly search engines like Kiddle or Swiggle.

  5. 5.

    Social media: Most social networking sites restrict access to children under the age of 13. Additionally, you can set the privacy settings on most accounts so that only close friends can search for your child or view what they have posted.

The NSPCC and Internet Matters have more information about keeping your children safe online.