Safety online

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This article, Safety online, was last updated on 30 July 2008 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Technology articles.


A good antivirus software package can only do so much to keep you safe – no security software tool is failsafe. 

To keep your PC secure, here are some quick online security tips to help you avoid picking up viruses and being tricked into giving away personal information.

Want the best security software for your PC? Read reviews of the Which? security software Best Buys to help you buy with confidence. 

Keep software up-to-date

Keep your operating software, web browser and other programs such as Java, Flash and Adobe Reader up-to-date by downloading the latest free updates. 

Updates help to plug security holes and keep you safe from malicious attacks. 

Both Windows and Mac OS can be set to download and install system updates automatically.

Stop spam with webmail

Use a free online email account such as Google’s Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Microsoft’s Outlook. 

They come with built-in spam and malware filters to stop you being directed to a fraudulent site or opening mail containing a virus.

Make a secure password

Create strong and secure passwords that are a mixture of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. Don’t store passwords or login details on your computer.  

Be cautious of email attachments

Don’t open email attachments sent by strangers, and never click on links in spam emails. Both may be links to viruses or other forms of malicious content.

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Use secure websites

Look for the padlock sign or ‘https://’ in the address bar when you make an online payment. This means the site is taking its own measures to keep your details safe.

Avoid fake antivirus software

Be wary of so-called ‘social engineering’ scams. These work by popping up a warning that your PC is infected with a virus, telling you to download a program to remove it. 

The fake anti-virus software you then download will proceed to mine personal info. 

If you see a message, be sure to check that it’s coming from your own security program.

Download from trusted websites only

Only download from trusted sites. Avoid downloading free content such as video clips, images and games from websites you’ve never heard of. 

Make sure you know exactly what you’re downloading so you don't end up installing dodgy software. 

We've rounded up some great free photo-editing, security and office software downloads in our guide to the best free software.

Keep browsing activities private

Delete your browser history and cookies after surfing the web in a public place such as a café or library. Cookies track what you do online, and can be used to recall personal details, so it’s always best to get into the habit of wiping this information at the end of your web session.

Sign out of public computers when done

When using a public computer, remember to log out of any websites you’ve had to sign into by clicking the 'sign out' button. Just closing the browser will not log you out, and the next person to use that computer will be able to access your accounts. 

Never tick the 'Remember password' option offered on some web browsers and websites. if you're using a shared or public computer. 

To ensure the PC doesn’t remember your login details, turn off the browser’s auto fill or auto complete feature.  

Don’t share personal details online

Limit the amount of personal information you share online. 

Lots of websites ask for your full name, date of birth, address, phone number and email address when all you want to do is read forum messages or browse goods on sale. 

Give as few details as possible, unless it is justified. 

Be careful, too, what you post on social networking sites – criminals use these sites to gather personal information that may allow them to change the password of your bank accounts.

More on this…

  • Protect your online ID – learn how to keep your ID and personal information safe online
  • Security software Best Buys – Discover which security software we recommend
  • How we test security software – Explore how Which? tests antivirus software so you can choose the best one for you