The World Wide Web is a fantastic resource, but as with everything, it has its risks. This guide will give you some hints and tips on staying safe while enjoying this new online world.

Follow these step-by-step instructions to help you stay safe online

Note: This guide assumes that you are using a PC with Windows.

General safety advice

Step 1: Make sure your antivirus software is up to date. If you’re not sure whether you have antivirus, read our guides What is antivirus? and Antivirus: how to get virus protection.

Windows 7 small white flagStep 2: Check that the Windows firewall is switched on. If you have Windows 7, the appearance of a small white flag (see right) in the system tray in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen should alert you to any problems. Click this flag to open the Action Center to check whether everything is working properly.

Action centre

Step 3: If you have an earlier version of Windows, a red shield-like icon in the system tray will appear if the Windows firewall isn’t switched on. Click it to see options for rectifying the problem.

Using the internet on shared computers

If you use the internet on a shared computer – for instance, in a library or internet café – try to remember to use the InPrivate Browsing option in Internet Explorer. When you do, you don’t leave any trace of the websites you’ve visited.

Step 1: To use this option, click Safety in the menu bar and choose InPrivate Browsing from the menu.

InPrivate browsing

Step 2: The address bar will now look like this. This tells you that you can browse the internet in the normal way but without revealing your online ‘journey’ to anyone else.

InPrivate address bar

Step 3: To switch off InPrivate Browsing, just close the browser window.

Step 4: If you forget to use InPrivate Browsing, you can still get rid of the details of what you looked at. For more information, see our guide How to delete internet history.

Other good things to do

  • If you use wireless broadband, make sure it’s password-protected to prevent other people from using it.
  • Keep your passwords secret and don’t use the same one for everything. Read our guide How to choose a password.
  • Email attachments can contain viruses so never open them unless you’re confident that they’re from a reliable source. If an email looks suspicious, it’s best to delete it.
  • Beware of ‘phishing‘ emails. These often look like they’ve come from a bank or similar institution and usually ask you to click a link to verify your identity. These emails are never genuine and should always be deleted.
  • When shopping online, only use reputable sites. The Shopsafe website has a directory of secure UK shops as well as advice on safe online shopping.
  • Before entering any personal or payment information online, always check that you’re on a secure website. This is indicated by a yellow padlock icon at the top of the screen and a website address that starts with ‘https://’ (the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’).

Yellow padlock in address bar

  • Use a nickname rather than your real name when participating in online chatrooms or forums and don’t give out any personal information.
  • If you use social networking sites – for instance, Facebook – change your account security settings to limit who can see your profile information. Never update your status with information that you wouldn’t want to be made public.

For further advice on staying safe online, have a look at the Get Safe Online website.

Fiona Syrett is a Digital Unite tutor.