The freedom of the internet allows hacking to occur. It’s important to take simple steps to keep you safe and secure.

Hackers can plant hidden programs on your PC, such as keyboard loggers which will automatically record your keystrokes, so when you use your online banking facility they can capture account information and use it to commit crimes. Phishers are those who send out legitimate looking emails to try to get the recipient to give them their financial and personal details.

Here are the most common ways that people keep themselves safe online:

Protect your personal details

  • Be wary when entering your personal details to subscribe to sites like YouTube or social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. This sort of information can make it a lot easier for a criminal to steal your identity. If you do use such sites, make sure your privacy is protected when editing your social networking page.
  • Use different passwords and PINs for different accounts.
  • Be careful when using public computers to access your personal information and always log out fully from websites when you are finished.

Protect your emails

  • Only open e-mail messages from people you know and delete messages from those you don’t know. Never click on an e-mail link or attachment unless you're sure it was requested. Some can lead you to fake web sites that look like the real thing where a criminal will be waiting to steal your details.
  • Disable the e-mail preview function. This can help prevent potential malicious code in messages from installing onto your PC.

Protect your internet use

  • If you have a wireless connection or network then ensure that it is configured correctly.
  • Whether your web browser is Internet Explorer, Firefox or Opera, make sure you have the safety features enabled.
  • Use parental control software to ensure your children don't visit any inappropriate web sites.
  • Don't download programs you're not absolutely certain are genuine and never accept a link or download a file through Instant Messaging.
  • Set Instant Messaging preferences to keep strangers at bay.
  • Always log out when you're not using Instant Messaging.
  • Be careful with the information you give out on blog sites – anyone could be reading it.

Protect your online payments

  • Make sure any online credit card charges are handled through a secure site or in an encrypted mode. You'll know you're on a secure site if the web page address you're entering your details on begins with https instead of the usual http, and a padlock symbol is displayed in the bottom of the screen.
  • When shopping online check the retailer is genuine; look for the Trust-e symbol or a Better Business Bureau online seal. These symbols show the seller has been independently audited and is thought to be trustworthy. Check that you can see the web browser address starting with 'https' or that there's a padlock logo at the bottom of the screen.

Use software to protect you

  • Install anti-virus software and ensure that it is updated at least weekly.
  • Make sure you have a personal firewall as part of your system configuration. Many Internet Service Providers include these with your broadband or dial-up package.