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All you need to know about Internet security

By Claire Nottage | Monday, December 19th 2022

Internet security is now more important than ever, with so many of us living so much of our life online. From bank details to shopping habits, there is a wealth of information out there for internet thieves to get their hands on if we don’t take action to stop them.

Fortunately, as the thieves grow ever more clever, so does the security software available to protect our data. In this guide we look at the steps you can take to protect your devices and online presence from unwanted attacks.

What is internet security?

Internet security is software that protects your internet connection and your devices from online attacks by malicious software (malware). In most cases, your broadband provider will offer a complimentary security package, which will offer blanket protection against attacks by malware across any device connected to your router. This will include antivirus software that constantly checks for viruses, blocks them and removes them from your devices.

What is malware?

Malware is all the really nasty stuff that can wreak havoc with your online experience. Without any internet security installed, any devices that are connected to your home wifi can come under attack. Malware can also slow down your computer to the point that it becomes unusable. In short, it causes chaos and puts all your personal information – including your identity – at risk of theft. Malware comes in the following forms.

  • Worms – Usually gain access to your computer via a weakness in some other legitimate software. They can delete files, steal data and install other forms of malware
  • Spyware – Usually hiding in freeware, spyware watches everything you do online and can steal bank details, passwords and personal identity information
  • Adware – Displays pop-ups that if clicked, will lead to websites harbouring malware
  • Ransomware – Blocks access to your files until you make a payment
  • Viruses – Usually get in via a downloaded file. They spread via email attachments and websites and will infect your contacts list to spread itself further

Spam and phishing

Spam is one form of malware that can be relatively easy to stop. The risk lies in you clicking on an email or advert (known as adware) thereby allowing malware into your computer by accident. Your email provider should offer settings that automatically block or filter out spammy emails into a separate folder where you can choose to review them or just delete them.

Spam email often tries to disguise itself as legitimate correspondence from a bank or similar business (a technique known as phishing), tempting you to click on it. If you are concerned about anything you receive which seems alarmingly official, contact your bank directly by phone instead – do not respond to the email or click on any links contained within it. Banks and other legitimate businesses will never ask you for personal details via email.

Who provides internet security?

Your broadband provider will most likely include free internet security with your broadband package, meaning you don’t need to worry about sourcing your own software. In fact, if you do want to install separate software you may have to uninstall your provider’s free software to do so as the two cannot always run in tandem. You can check this with your provider directly.

There are a number of third-party internet security software manufacturers, including McAfee, Norton and AVG to mention a few, should you wish to install your own software independently. However, it’s worth knowing that the security software your provider uses is likely to be made by one of the major third-party software companies, or a customised version of it, so choosing to pay extra for some third-party security software may well turn out to be a rather pointless exercise.

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Other ways to keep your data safe

As well as implementing internet security at router level, there are various other methods you can use, in addition, to keep your data safe, from renaming your home wifi network to choosing secure, complex passwords for any online accounts.

Keep browsers and operating systems up to date

Whether you use Apple OS or Windows, it’s important to keep any software you use up to date. Download the latest versions whenever you get a notification as these updates often include security fixes. Without them, there may be loopholes that can be used by malware to attack your data.

Keep your security software up to date

Even once you have your antivirus security software installed, it is important to keep it up to date. Antivirus software is continually updated to counter the latest malware, so if you don’t update it, you are putting your system at risk of an attack.

Change your home wifi network name and password

When you receive your router from your new broadband provider, it will have a preset password, usually printed on the underside. It’s a good idea to change this on a regular basis to stop hackers getting into your connection. It is also worth considering changing your SSID – the format in which your connection appears in your settings list. You can change it to something more personal, which would suggest to a would-be attacker that you are highly security-aware.

It is also possible to hide your SSID completely, so that anyone scanning for local wifi will not be able to see it. Not all routers enable this, but you can find out by checking if it offers you the option to ‘disable SSID broadcasting’.

Use a password manager

A huge number of websites now require you to register before you can do anything, making it tempting to use the same password for different sites, which increases your chances of being hacked. A third-party password manager, such as Last Pass, Keeper or Dashlane, stores all your login information and protects it with one overarching password, so you only have to remember that one password and can make all others as complex as you like without having to remember them all.

Internet security for 4G devices

It may surprise you to know that 4G is safer than wi-fi when it comes to internet security, especially public wi-fi. Any data sent by 4G is encrypted by your mobile network, meaning you don’t need to worry about privacy when using your mobile device. Having said that, you should still use carefully selected passwords to protect your information on any websites that require a login.

However, if you regularly make use of free public wi-fi to get online with your mobile device, it is worth getting yourself a VPN – or Virtual Private Network. A VPN creates a private network within a public internet connection, such as a hotel’s free wi-fi, and provides an encrypted, secure connection for your device. There is a huge range of VPN services available – simply browse the Apple App Store or Google Play to download one of your choice and install it on your device.

Broadband providers with the best internet security

All the major providers offer decent internet security of a similar standard, with minor variations. Check each provider’s website for the full details of the level of protection on offer, including how many devices are covered.

  • Virgin Media – Offers F-Secure SAFE for an extra £3 per month (the first three months is free) with all its broadband packages, which protects all devices connected to your wifi from malware, spyware and phishing. It also includes Web Safe that automatically blocks sites that are inappropriate for children and sites that may contain viruses, along with anything deemed fraudulent
  • BT – Offers tailored security software created by McAfee in the form of BT Virus Protect. This comprehensive package protects from viruses, blocks spyware and comes with an intelligent firewall system. Broadband customers get licences to protect two devices free. Superfast Fibre 2 customers get 15 devices protected for free. Broadband customers can pay £4.18 per month to upgrade to cover for 15 devices
  • Sky Broadband – Offers Sky Broadband Shield free to all its customers, which protects any devices connected to your router from malware, phishing and viruses. It also includes Safe Search that filters out explicit content
  • TalkTalk – Offers Online Defence, created by F-Secure, which protects all registered devices from phishing, malware and viruses and also filters out adult material. Broadband customers will pay £4 per month and fibre customers are charged £2 per month. Note that some features of Online Defence are only available on Windows PCs.
  • Plusnet – Includes Plusnet Protect with all its broadband and Unlimited Fibre Extra plans, although oddly Fibre Unlimited customers are subject to an £2 monthly fee. It blocks viruses, fraudulent sites, phishing and malware. To protect children from inappropriate content, Plusnet also offers Plusnet Safeguard free with all its packages

Frequently asked questions

Do I need additional security beyond what my provider offers for free?

In the majority of cases, the security software provided by your internet provider will be more than adequate. Check whether you need to install it yourself however when your service goes live, otherwise you will not be protected.

Is online banking safe?

With your internet security installed and any updates to software regularly run, internet banking is perfectly safe. In addition, all the banks require several levels of security to their customers for added peace of mind when banking online.

Does internet security include parental controls?

Some packages come with parental controls bundled in, others offer them separately, but all major providers will offer some level of free parental control that allows you to block inappropriate content and set time limits on your children’s broadband access.

Can I remove malware from my computer?

Once it has gained access, it is almost impossible to remove malware from your device. With security software installed on your router, you should be able to avoid being infected with malware in the first place.

What is a Trojan virus?

There are a number of different types of malware that can get into your computer. A Trojan virus is a kind of malware that disguises itself as legitimate software. Once you have downloaded and installed it, it can then delete or copy your files, block data and slow the performance of your computer.

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