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Be secure online

When you use the internet you may be connected to thousands of other computers that you are exchanging information and data with, including personal details. It is important to make sure your computer, your information and your privacy are as secure as possible.

Being aware of the risks


Viruses are destructive software that can run on your computer without you knowing. They spread through the internet and emails by copying themselves to documents and programs on your computer. Viruses can cause damage by deleting files and can allow criminals to monitor your computer and steal personal information. They can slow down your computer and take days to remove.


Spy-ware is software that's often downloaded with other software, like music sharing software. It can allow criminals to scan your computer for information stored on it, install pop up advertisements, and let viruses through.


A botnet is a network of virus-infected computers that are used together and can be remotely controlled. The attacker can then have access to the computers and use them for malicious activities like sending spam. All this can be done without the users of the computer knowing what is happening.

Security measures you can take

Using the most up-to-date version of your operating system

Your operating system is the main piece of software controlling your computer. Some common systems in use are Microsoft Windows, Macintosh OS and Linux. Most new computers come with this software installed. The most recent version of the software is usually the most secure. Updates are usually available from the software manufacturer, and are free to download.

Make sure you have a desktop firewall in place

A firewall is software or hardware that acts as a filter between your computer or network and the internet. Using a firewall prevents unauthorised access to your computer and is designed to stop worms (another type of malicious software).

Desktop firewalls for individual computers are available in high street shops. Some operating systems have built-in firewalls but it's best to check with the manufacturer and find out if it provides adequate protection.

Using up-to-date antivirus software

Antivirus software will check your computer for viruses and alerts you of any it recognises. It's important to keep this software up to date, as new viruses are being created all the time.

Use strong passwords

Many websites use passwords to protect your identity. If passwords get into the wrong hands or are easy to guess, your personal details will be easily accessible.

Good passwords should:

  • never be shared - including with helpline staff, written down or observed
  • be at least seven characters long
  • be a mixture of lower and upper case letters, numbers and other keyboard characters
  • changed regularly - every three months is good guide
  • not be the same on all the sites you use

Monitoring your family's use of the internet

Make sure everyone's aware of internet safety issues - especially young people and children, who may use file-sharing programs, instant messaging and chatrooms more than adults. Think about restricting sites they can view and what they can download. It's usually possible do this through the settings on your browser, or you can buy separate software.

Other ways to stay secure

You could:

  • avoid disclosing personal information as much as possible
  • only open email attachments from people you know
  • be careful about sharing files and downloading software, as these can easily spread viruses and hide spy-ware

For more help on staying safe from internet fraud see 'How to avoid online fraud'.

myguide: step-by-step beginner's guide to internet safety

Got a friend or family member who wants to go online, but is worried about viruses, spam or online fraud? They can learn how to protect themselves with myguide's 30 minute beginner's guide to internet safety.

See 'Helping someone get started online' for more about myguide.

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