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We’ve gradually become more immersed in the online world – finding and sharing information, buying stuff, paying bills, streaming music and TV shows. The internet has proved to be a wonderful tool and source of entertainment. But as we’ve become more reliant on it, we’re putting our data at increasing risk from intruders.

It’s enough to worry anyone, but with a little preparation it’s perfectly possible to keep your broadband safe. Read on to understand the cyber threats you need to watch out for and what you can do to protect your Internet connection.

Why do I need to protect my broadband?

Broadband is almost too good to be true; it's so convenient and simple to find what you want online. However, this also means that if you don't take due care, your broadband can be convenient fodder for hackers.

Disreputable types will waste no time in tapping into your defenceless connection, with the ability to create havoc and steal confidential data from you.

What damage can a hacker really do?

It ultimately depends on the hacker's ability and equipment. At best, they could hijack your connection and use it without your knowledge.

At worst, with the most sophisticated software and skills, a hacker could take control of your broadband connection. They could access all of your files, including deleted ones, install harmful software onto your computer or laptop, access your internet history and even steal your identity.

The bottom line is there's a lot at stake here and you absolutely don't want to let a hacker access your connection.

What can I do to protect my broadband?

Thankfully, there are lots of ways to protect your broadband from a cyber attack. Stick to this checklist to protect your connection:

  • WEP/WPA key: most broadband providers supply a unique WEP or WPA key that you'll see on the bottom or side of your router. This long code should be hard to memorise and will help protect your WiFi from unwanted guests.

  • WiFi name: avoid the temptation to identify where you live or who you are in your WiFi name, as this'll make your connection more vulnerable to hackers. Ideally, choose something random that can't be linked to your address or identity.

  • Firewall: for added assurance, a firewall can be an efficient barrier against crafty hackers.

  • Password: the password for the settings of a new router or wireless internet connection is often set to something generic, like ‘admin' and is therefore very guessable. It's vital to change this to a unique password as soon as you can.

  • Your noodle: not the takeaway kind – good old fashioned common sense. Always save sensitive data on a memory stick, rather than online. And avoid sharing your login details with anyone, just in case they get into the wrong hands.

What’s spam and what can I do about it?

Spam is the term used for anything that pops up on your screen without your permission. It usually takes the form of adverts or sales emails that you didn't sign up to.

Since spam has been around since we've been using email, you'll be familiar with the format. There's the type that goes straight into your junk folder, and then there are those more menacing emails that are actually viruses. The latter can contaminate your machine and potentially cause a great deal of damage.

Shield yourself from spam by:

  • Limiting who knows your email address: unless you work in marketing, you'll probably want to opt out of promotional emails. Simply tick the relevant box whenever you get the chance to opt out. Also avoid publishing your email address online.

  • Not replying or clicking on a spam email: this will alert the sender that your account is active and you'll soon receive even more rubbish.

  • Activating anti-spam settings: almost every email provider, such as Yahoo or BT, will filter dodgy-looking emails.

  • Password: the password for the settings of a new router or wireless internet connection is often set to something generic, like ‘admin' and is therefore very guessable. It's vital to change this to a unique password as soon as you can.

  • Never opening emails or attachments from unknown senders: attachments can often turn out to be nasty viruses. Also, be on your guard if you receive emails from your bank asking you to reveal security information, as this is almost certainly fraudulent.

What's a cookie?

In a tech context, a cookie is a tiny, harmless file that websites use to remember your login details for future visits. You're entitled to opt-out if you don't want them on your computer.

The advantage of cookies, though, is that you can quickly revisit your favourite websites and make purchases without constantly having to recall different passwords and usernames.

While it's fine to use cookies on a private connection at home, you shouldn't save any passwords on a public computer – for instance in a coffee shop.

How does malicious spyware work?

Harmful spyware is like a sneaky version of a cookie. But unlike cookies, which you should be aware of when you visit a website, spyware is secretly downloaded onto your machine, stealing your passwords and web visits by recording your keystrokes.

Warning signs of a spyware attack include:

  • Your internet connection starts playing up
  • More pop-up ads
  • Your computer or laptop gets very slow or crashes frequently
  • Your browser's homepage suddenly changes

If you notice any of these symptoms, run a virus scan as soon as possible.

How should I protect my computer against spyware?

The majority of UK broadband providers will offer you a security package as part of their service. Be sure to check what you'll get when you sign up to a new provider to ensure that security is part of the deal.

And if you run a company, you'll likely get more business-specific security from business broadband providers.

If you want to take extra precautions, there's plenty of reliable anti-spyware software out there. You just need to ensure that you always keep it up-to-date so it doesn't get outsmarted by the spyware, which unfortunately, is continually advancing.

If you found this article helpful, take a look at our full list of broadband guides and advise we have available.