Stay safe online in 2016

Published by Ruth Jackson on 21 December 2015.
Last updated on 21 December 2015

computer security

They show we must be vigilant about protecting ourselves online. Follow these steps to keep your personal data safe on the world wide web.

Protect your passwords

“Recent hacks highlighted that many of us still don’t use safe enough passwords,” says Nick Hill, money expert for the Money Advice Service. “Avoid using elements of your name, username or words related to your interests – and don’t use the word ‘password’.”

Astonishingly, half of us use the same password for all our internet accounts, according to research by Ofcom. One in four of us also uses an easy-to-guess password such as birthdays or names.

If you want a really strong password, use an acronym. For example, if you are a music fan, take your favourite lyric and just use the first letters of each word. So a Beatles fan might go with YAMTSSFA (Can you guess which song that is?). Then make it harder to crack by swapping some letters for numbers or symbols, and by using upper and lower cases. The password then becomes ¥aMT55fa – a really strong password, but still pretty easy to remember.

“Although it makes it more difficult for you to remember, having different passwords for different sites/accounts can also be helpful,” says Hill. “To help you remember, you could have one password for sites beginning A-H, another for I-P and so on.”

Adrian Heer of cyber protection firm PhiShield UK adds: “Change your password every six months and never have too many passwords that are the same or derivatives of each other.”

Avoid 'phishing' scams

You can have the strongest possible passwords in the world, but if you end up on a dodgy website you could give it away.

The most common way this happens is via ‘phishing’ email. This is where scammers send you an email that appears to be from your bank but if you log in via the links within it, you end up giving the scammers all your log-in details.

Avoiding this trap is fairly straightforward. Be on your guard against unsolicited emails asking you to log in to your bank account. “Never respond to any emails asking for you to supply or enter your username or password,” says Heer.

Instead, either call your bank and ask it to verify the contents of the email, or open a new internet browser window and type in the address of your bank before logging in to check your accounts.

“If you are in any doubt at all, do not click links in the email and certainly don’t enter a password or any sensitive details.” says Hill.

Use protective software

Build a digital fortress to defend yourself against scammers using software to steal your log-in details. Viruses and malware can not only mess up your computer, some will monitor your internet use and allow hackers to copy your passwords and log-in details.

Make sure you have the latest anti-virus and internet security software downloaded on to your computer. Then either enable auto-updates or check for updates every day. “Trust your security product’s default settings. These usually ensure that your security is updated 24/7, which gives you the highest level of protection,” adds Heer.

Look out for padlocks

If you are shopping online, make sure you don’t accidently give away your bank details – instead, be wary before entering them on to websites.

“You should only enter card details into sites that are secure, or they could be intercepted,” says Hill. To make sure a website is secure, look out for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window or in the address bar (make sure it is in the frame of the browser and not on the webpage itself). If a website is secure the address should start with ‘https://' rather than ‘http://.'

Act fast if you're worried

With the best will in the world, some of us may fall victim to a hacker. It could be that you maintained all your security procedures and were vigilant, but the scammers got your details from another source, such as your bank or internet provider.

Be on your guard for this by setting up text or email alerts for your bank account, so if your balance dips below a certain point or there are large withdrawals you’ll be alerted straightaway.

If for any reason you are worried about the security of your online accounts, speak to the bank or company that provides them as soon as possible. Also change your passwords.

Speak to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or check its website ( for advice, too. It can help you work out if you have been contacted by scammers, tackle the problem and inform you of the latest scams to be on your guard against.

If you have been the victim of a hack or internet scam, watch out for follow-up attacks. Many fraudsters will try to increase their ill-gotten gains by contacting the victims of scams saying they can help you get your money back.

Use your common sense

One of the best forms of defence against hackers, scammers and any other internet criminals is common sense. The old saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” can save you from a great deal of cons.

“If you’re being offered a prize for a competition you didn’t enter, find an item for sale online at an absurdly cheap price or have been emailed by the prince of a foreign nation offering you riches, chances are it’s going to end up being a risk,” says Hill. “Not all scams will be that obvious though, so always take a moment to think if you’re in doubt.”

More About