The internet is a great way to stay in touch with people and make your life easier, but there are also dangers to be aware of. This page covers some simple steps you can take to protect yourself when you’re going online.
Here are some terms you might encounter on this page.
Software – programs on your computer that make it work and allow you to do more things. It includes your operating system (such as Windows, macOS, Android or iOS), web browsers, apps and security software.
Applications (apps) – programs that allow you to do things on your phone, tablet, computer or other smart device. You can get apps to track your health, check the news, browse the web, set reminders and more.
Web browsers – an app that you use to look at websites, for example Internet Explorer, Safari or Google Chrome.
Malware – a program that attacks computers, tablets, mobiles and other smart devices. It includes spyware, which steals personal information, and viruses, which spread through other files and stop your device from working properly.
Security software – helps defend your device against threats by blocking, finding, and removing malware. However, it won't stop someone from trying to get into your device.
Hacker – someone who tries to get into your computer or smart device without your permission to steal information or cause your device to break.
WiFi – a wireless internet network.
Protecting your computer, phone or tablet
Any smart device connected to the internet is at risk from viruses and hackers. However, there are a few steps you can take to keep it safe.
- Use a password on your home WiFi – most internet providers will give you a box with a password already set up, but you can change your WiFi password for added security.
- Keep software updated – this will include security updates to protect your device from viruses and hackers. You can set updates to happen automatically, or you can install them when you get a notification. See the guides for Apple, Android or Windows.
- Consider using security software – most new devices have security features built in, but you can install dedicated security software. There are free options as well as paid ones. For more information, visit Get safe online.
- Avoid using public WiFi which may not be secure – it can be safer to use mobile data if you have this, particularly if you're banking or shopping. Find out more on Get safe online.
- Stay alert when in public – for example, by being aware of who is around you if you're using a device while you're out and about. You can also set up a code or password to unlock your device, so it's harder to access if someone steals it.
- Use trusted places to download apps – for example, Apple's app store or Google's play store.
Setting strong passwords
Passwords help stop scammers from getting into your online accounts. There are ways you can make them more secure.
- Always use strong passwords – for example, by using at least three random words like 'CatDogIris'. You can include numbers, punctuation, uppercase and lowercase letters too. Some websites or apps may ask you to make your password a certain length and include certain characters.
- Use a different password for each account – that way, if a scammer gets hold of one password, they won't be able to get into your other accounts as well.
- Consider using a reliable password manager – this is an app that you can save your passwords in. You set a master password to access it, so you'd only need to remember the master password instead of lots of different passwords.
- Use two- or multi-factor authentication (2FA or MFA) – this involves a code or prompt being sent to something only you can access, such as a phone, email address or security device. You'd then type this code into the website or app, or press a button, to prove it's you logging in. Not every website has this feature. But if the option is available, it provides an extra level of security.
- Always log out of your accounts when you've finished – just closing the browser isn't enough. It's very important to do this if you use a public computer, such as in a library.
How to tell if a website is secure
Checking if you're on a secure website is especially important when you're shopping, banking or sharing other personal information.
You can look out for certain signs, such as:
- a padlock symbol in the browser window frame, not the page itself
- if the website address begins with https:// – the 's' stands for secure
- how the website address is spelt – look out for small mistakes, extra words, symbols or a completely different name from the person or organisation you're trying to contact.
You have control when you’re using the internet. If you think there might be a problem, it’s better to stop and ask for help from someone you trust. For more information, visit Get safe online.
Scammers are criminals who try to get money or personal information from you. Some common internet scams include:
- fake emails and text messages (known as phishing) – these usually claim to be from places like your bank, the police, HMRC or the Post Office
- social media scams
- fake websites
- relationship scams
- cheap medicines or miracle cures
- shopping scams.
It's important to keep aware of different types of scams. For more information, read our Scams pages.
If you've been scammed
If you’ve been the victim of an online crime, however small, don’t keep quiet. Tell someone you trust and report it to Action Fraud. If a crime is in progress and you need help immediately, call the police on 999.
Online privacy – how to keep yourself safe
The internet can help you keep in touch with family and friends. However, it's important to protect your privacy on chat rooms, forums, dating websites and social media.
You can keep yourself safe by:
- creating usernames that don’t include personal information, such as your full name or date of birth
- checking what's shown publicly. Very few websites are completely private, but you can usually change privacy settings to suit you
- being careful about what you share about yourself on public websites
- not publicly posting anything that could be used to identify you and where you live
- only accepting friend or follow requests from people you know on social networking sites
- checking that a video call is private not public and that you know who's joining.
If you meet someone online, remember:
- not everyone is who they say they are
- relationships can change – someone you trust now might behave differently in future
- be wary of anyone who wants to move offline too soon
- never send money to someone you've met online.
Read more on our page Protecting yourself against abuse, or Get Safe Online's page on Online abuse.
Everyday internet safety
Using the internet for everyday tasks like shopping, banking and managing your health is usually very safe. But there are scammers around and some very convincing fake websites.
Make sure you:
- research the seller and offer – some deals are too good to be true
- use security features, like passwords and two- or multi-factor authentication to confirm that it’s you logging in
- always use a smart device you know and a secure internet connection
- never follow a link in an email or text message
- check the website is secure and stays secure if you’re sent to a separate payment service, like PayPal or World Pay
- always log out of the website when you’ve finished – just closing your browser is not enough to keep your details safe.
For more information, see our pages about online banking, online shopping and managing your health online.
Visit Get Safe Online for more advice on internet safety or take Cyber Aware's six actions to improve your online security.
Ask about free or low-cost courses on internet safety at your local library or Online Centre. Or try Learn My Way's free online safety course.
If you've been the victim of an online crime, tell someone you trust and report it to Action Fraud.