Monthly Archives: November 2016

Tips to Stay Safe Online

You can do almost anything online nowadays; banking, shopping and communicating is as easy as clicking a button.

But it can be just as easy for cyber criminals to access your personal information – and with disastrous consequences if they do.

Internet security is something we should all take seriously. And a little knowledge is all it takes to stay safe online.

How hackers access your information

Internet hackers can gain access to your personal information in a few ways:

Spam is unsolicited email from an unknown source. Hackers may pose as a legitimate website and ask you for your personal details, commonly known as ‘phishing’.
You might encounter an online store that promises you a product or service but doesn’t deliver.
Hackers may sneak in to your computer in the form of a virus or malware.
Gone phishing

The easiest scams to detect are the phishing scams, where someone sends you an email asking for your personal details, claiming to be from a trusted service.

If this happens, mark it as spam and don’t respond. Legitimate services will never ask for your personal information over email.

Ultimately, the golden rule of internet security is never open an email attachment or click a link to a website from an unknown source.

Online scams

These aren’t as common today as they once were, but still exist.

Someone from an online shop ‘sells’ you something, takes your money and disappears.

Before you purchase anything online, check if:

The web address begins with ‘https’ or ‘shttp’. The S stands for secure and means it’s less likely to be hacked.
They have a verified PayPal account, preferably a business account. If you pay into a personal PayPal account, you might be stranded if the product isn’t delivered.
Credit card payments are made through a verified service. A locked padlock should appear next to the URL (web address) at the top of your browser to show it’s secure.
Virus protection

A virus is a small program designed to harm your computer. It’s spread via email and can do all kinds of damage, like deleting data.

Likewise, malware – or malicious software – can come in the form of a virus or a software application that steals your personal data. This type is called spyware.

The best way to protect your computer is to install antivirus software that includes an anti-malware application.

Free antivirus software is available to download online, but should be regularly updated.

To ensure you have the latest version, choose a program that automatically updates itself.

The perfect password

Our online passwords are often our weakest points. It’s tempting to choose ones that are easy to remember, but they’re also easy for others to uncover and exploit.

To protect yourself from password theft:

Use a different password for every account.
Mix random numbers, letters and special characters (*, ! or ?).
Never enter your password in public where someone can see what you’re typing.
Store your online passwords in a secure, offline location and look them up when you need them.

Your rights online

If the worst happens, remember you do have rights.

Every online service should have a clearly stated Terms and Conditions page that tells you everything you need to know about the company’s returns and refunds policy. Read it.

Credit card theft is rare if you take the proper precautions, but still happens. Fortunately, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 protects you for credit card purchases between £100 and £30,000.

If you feel you need further protection, some credit card providers offer purchase protection programs.

Being vigilant about internet security might seem like a full-time job, but once you know what to look for it becomes second nature.

Simple Ways to Speed Up Your Router

Slow broadband speeds, intermittent service and flaky connections can be immensely frustrating when you’re trying to get online.

Try these tips to fix common router problems and speed up your internet connection.

1. Upgrade your router

Replacing an old router with a newer model will vastly improve your broadband speed, coverage and reliability.

If your internet service provider (ISP) supplied the wireless router, call and ask them for a newer model if available.

Alternatively, buy your own router – look for one with the fastest wi-fi technology, often labelled ‘Wireless n and ac capable’ and with support for dual-band wireless of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.

This allows faster, more reliable connections for newer devices such as Apple iPads and laptops.

For a smaller fix, replace your router’s antenna. A more powerful antenna will have a better range, so it can receive and transmit the wireless signal further around your home.

2. Keep your router on

Don’t turn off your router or unplug it when not in use. Routers need to be on continuously to ensure optimum broadband speeds.

If you switch your router off at night, you may miss out on automatically downloaded firmware updates that boost your router’s speed.

Your ISP may also mistake a switched-off router as a faulty connection and so lower your broadband speed to compensate.

3. Check cables and reboot

Loose cables can cause problems, so ensure your router cables are properly connected.

For a quick fix to a troublesome broadband issue, restart your router. Turn it off, wait at least 30 seconds and then switch it on again.

This resets your broadband connection to the fastest possible speed.

4. Boost your WiFi signal

Make sure that your router is connected to the main telephone socket or cable connection – usually the one closest to where the telephone line or cable enters your home.

This gives the clearest signal, bypassing any old internal phone wires that can slow speeds.

Try fitting a Broadband Accelerator over your main telephone socket. This reduces interference from your home phone wiring, thus boosting broadband speeds.

5. Move your router

Being too far away from your router can cause slow broadband speeds, so try moving your computer closer.

Wireless broadband signals struggle when blocked by thick walls, doors, furniture, mirrors and metal objects, so relocating your router can be an easy fix for slow web surfing.

For the best coverage, place the wireless router somewhere central and ideally high up – on top of a cupboard or bookshelf for example. Keeping it dust-free and well-ventilated helps, too.

6. Change WiFi channels

Interference and digital noise from your neighbour’s WiFi network can cause problems.

During set up, your router automatically chooses a channel frequency to broadcast on. If other routers nearby use the same frequency, things can slow down as interference can degrade the WiFi signal.

Changing the channel that your router uses can help improve its speeds.

Read the router manual or contact your broadband supplier for advice on how to do this. But it’s usually a process of logging onto your wireless router via your web browser, choosing a new channel, and restarting the router.

7. Secure your network

If your wireless network isn’t secured with a password, neighbours and passers-by can tap into your broadband connection to access the internet, without your knowledge.

Not only is this a security risk, it can slow down your broadband speed as other people use up your bandwidth.

Set a strong network password made up of letters, numbers and symbols, and stop your router from broadcasting your wireless network’s name, effectively ‘hiding’ your wireless signal. This deters anyone searching for a network to piggy-back from trying to connect to yours.

Should You Know About Cookies

What are cookies?

Online cookies are unfortunately not of the edible variety. ‘Cookie’ is geek speak for a small snippet of text that a website places in your browser (the application you use to browse the web, like Safari or Internet Explorer) to track what you do when you visit it.

The original term used by computer programmers was ‘fortune cookie’, because a cookie is designed to ‘read your fortune’ by remembering who you are and some basic information about your browsing history.

You probably have dozens, if not hundreds of cookies lurking behind the scenes on your browser.

For example, if you’ve ever had to type a username and password to gain access to a site, you may have noticed that the site somehow remembered your username. That’s a cookie’s work.

If you’ve indulged in a spot of online shopping, when you return to the site at a later date you’ll notice that it has remembered everything about you, including the personal information you’ve shared and the items you’ve purchased or put into a shopping cart. Cookies are responsible for this, too.

Are cookies safe?

If a website’s cookies can remember your personal details, you might wonder what stops an unauthorised site from finding them out as well.

Rest assured, cookies are safe for a variety of reasons:

They’re only available to the website that creates them
Cookies do not give websites access to any information you have not voluntarily given them
Cookies cannot pass viruses (harmful programs) to your computer.
Although cookies are stored discreetly on your browser, you can view them and remove them if you wish to.

On the most popular browsers, you can usually do this in your privacy settings. Otherwise you can check out the ‘Help’ section on your menu or do a Google search for something like: “How to remove cookies on Safari”.

Your browser may even give you the option to not accept cookies. This isn’t generally advised, because cookies are designed to personalise your online experience and some sites don’t function properly if cookies are disabled.

While not quite as tasty as regular cookies, online cookies are nothing to worry about. In fact, they tend to make using the internet easier.

You can delete them if you want to, and nothing will go wrong, but many of the sites you visit regularly won’t remember who you are until you remind them.

Tips to Keep Your Online Passwords Safe

Once upon a time, creating an online password was easy. All you had to do was think of a word that meant something to you – perhaps your pet’s name or your favourite sporting team.

Then word got out that hackers were taking advantage of simple passwords to gain access to private and personal information.

We were told we needed longer passwords with a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols, and that we should never use the same password twice.

How to choose passwords you’ll remember

If you have a good memory, you might be able to remember one or two more complex passwords for accounts you use regularly, but most of us now have multiple accounts that require this security measure.

How can you possibly remember online passwords if they look like S!3x@7yp? Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be quite so complicated.

Experts agree that you should follow three rules when choosing passwords:

Each password should be different.

Passwords should not be related.

Passwords should be difficult for others to guess.
The key is making connections others won’t be likely to guess.

Let’s say you’re trying to think of a password for your Facebook account.

What image comes to mind when you think of the letter F? It could be a favourite thing or an old friend. Who was your best friend when you were a child? “Jeff!” And what year was he born?

If it was 1961, “Jeff!1961!” would be a reasonably secure password you can probably remember and associate with your Facebook account.

If you’re still not satisfied, you can throw in an extra number, symbol or letter. J is the 10th letter of the alphabet, so you might want to use “10eff!1961!” instead.

Storing passwords safely

You’ll probably remember a couple of your most frequently used online passwords, but if your list grows to an unmanageable level, don’t be tempted to jot them down on your phone or computer.

If your computer or mobile device gets hacked, the hacker will have access to all of your online passwords – it’s a recipe for disaster.

The best way to store passwords online is through a secure password manager. Three of the best known password management sites are:

KeePass

Password Safe

RoboForm

RoboForm costs around £7.95 to buy after a 30-day trial, while KeePass and Password Safe are free and open source programs.

On all password managers, you only have to remember one ‘master’ password to gain access to all your online passwords.

Just remember to update it regularly to ensure you’re using the latest security features. (It will probably remind you!)

Online security is an important issue, but don’t let fear stop you from making the most of everything the internet has to offer.

There are no guarantees, of course, but by being clever about your online passwords and using a secure password manager, it’s an issue you shouldn’t have to worry about.

Easy Ways to Speed Up A Slow Laptop

As your laptop ages, it can get clogged with unwanted programs and files, reducing its performance to a crawl. Rather than splash out for a brand new laptop, our easy tips will speed up your laptop and give it a new lease of life.

1. Check for viruses

Serious laptop slow-downs can be caused by virus infection or malware.

Make sure real-time protection is switched on in Windows’ built-in anti-virus program Windows Defender.

Run a full scan of your laptop to detect and remove any malware.

2. Delete unused programs

Over time, your laptop may get bogged down by programs you no longer use.

Removing unwanted software will help speed up your laptop. Click ‘Start’ > ‘Control Panel’ > ‘Uninstall a program’.

From the list of programs that appears, click the program you want to remove and then click ‘Uninstall’.

Windows 10 users can uninstall programs from the Start menu by right-clicking the program listed under ‘All apps’ and selecting ‘Uninstall’.

3. Remove temporary files

Temporary files created through everyday computing tasks can clog up your laptop’s hard drive.

Use Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup tool to delete these, freeing up hard disk space and speeding up your laptop.

Click in the Taskbar search box, type disk cleanup and select it from the results. Select the type of files you want to delete and then click ‘OK’ and then click ‘Delete files’.

To free up even more space, click ‘Clean up system files’ too.

4. Add more hard drive storage

Your laptop’s hard drive needs enough free space to work effectively. Once it’s more than 85% full, it will start to perform slowly.

A quick and easy solution is to move some of your files onto an external hard drive. Large files, such as photos, music and video clips, are good files to offload.

5. Stop programs starting automatically

If your laptop takes ages to start up, there may be too many programs trying to launch when you switch it on.

You can stop programs that you don’t need from loading automatically in Windows 10 by right-clicking the Taskbar and selecting ‘Task Manager’. Click ‘More details’ and then select the ‘Startup’ tab.

Here you’ll see a list of programs that load automatically when your laptop boots up, along with the impact this has. Right-click a program and select ‘Disable’ to stop it loading.

6. Add extra memory

Adding extra memory (RAM) will dramatically speed up laptop performance, especially when working with large files or running several programs at once.

Without enough RAM, laptops can slow down when opening or switching between applications.

RAM can be bought in strips that fit into slots inside your laptop, though first you’ll need to know which type is suitable and how much you can add.

There are lots of websites that can help you with this. Crucial.com, for example, can scan your laptop and then tells you the type and amount of RAM that you can add.

7. Install a solid-state drive

Get a major speed boost by swapping your laptop’s old hard drive for a solid-state drive (SSD) instead.

Unlike mechanical hard drives, SSD have no moving parts so deliver a faster performance when accessing or writing files.

As prices for SSDs have fallen in recent years, replacing your old hard drive is a more economical solution than buying a new computer.