Staying safe online

Many first-time computer and smartphone users have concerns about their security when going online. The good news is that you should stay safe on the internet if you follow some basic rules and are aware of the security issues and scams to look out for.

1. Install antivirus software and keep it up to date. This is absolutely essential for Windows computers and advisable for other devices such as Apple Macs and smartphones. The good news is that Windows 10 now has Windows Defender built in, so if you keep Windows up to date you will be protected.

If you are running an older version of Windows we strongly recommend updating to Windows 10 if possible (earlier versions going back to Windows 7 can still be updated at no cost if you have the licence key). If you can’t update to Windows 10 it is essential to install antivirus software yourself. You don’t have to pay for antivirus software – the free offerings from providers such as Bitdefender and Avast are still effective.

2. When visiting a website look for the padlock icon at the top left of your browser. This means that the information you send to the website is encrypted, and is particularly important if you are sending personal information. Be particularly careful if you are using an open wi-fi network (one that doesn’t require a password to log in for the first time).

3. If you receive an email with an attached file make sure that it is something you were expecting and don’t open anything that looks unusual or suspicious. Opening bad attachments is the commonest way for viruses to get on to computers.

4. Be particularly alert if you receive an email that appears to be from a bank, phone provider or broadband provider. These are often used for ‘phishing’ – this means stealing your personal information. A phishing email links to a website that looks like the real thing but is actually a fake site used by scammers to get information from you. This information might be used later for purposes such as stealing your identity. If in doubt always go directly to the bank or provider’s website or call them using their official helpline number for advice. Phishing emails can also appear to come from HMRC, the DWP and online stores such as Amazon.

5. If you think you have a virus on your computer, run a reputable virus scanner to check and clean it. We recommend Malwarebytes, which can be used for free. Typical signs of a virus are unexpected messages appearing on your screen, often warnings, intrusive advertising or the computer unexpectedly slowing down. It is a good idea to run a scanner regularly to check that your computer is in good order.

6. Always keep a spare copy of any important data – you don’t want to lose valuable documents or photos. You can use a USB memory stick for this or store the data online using sites such as Google Drive or Dropbox. This means that in the event of a virus infecting your computer you can easily clean it up and recover any lost data. Keeping a copy of your data is also important in case your computer suffers a failure.

7. If anyone phones you telling you that you have a security problem with your computer or a problem with your broadband or phone, just hang up on them. If in doubt call your provider on their official contact number. In particular, Microsoft will never phone anyone and there are many scammers pretending to be from Microsoft – at best they will charge you money for nothing, at worst they could steal your details and drain your bank account. Similar scams are also being attempted with texts – ignore them.

8. Be immediately suspicious of anyone that asks you to make a money transfer or contacts you telling that the account details of someone you are due to pay have changed. Check immediately with your bank or the person you were expecting to pay.

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