Browsing the web safely

Protecting yourself by securing your devices, software and connections is important, but making the right choices when doing things on the web can make a huge difference to your safety online.

Protecting yourself by securing your devices, software and connections is important, but making the right choices when doing things on the web can make a huge difference to your safety online.

Remember: There are potential risks involved in doing things online, but by making smart choices you can reduce that risk.

How to be safe when browsing the web

By using a combination of preventative measures and making good choices online you can stay safe when browsing the web.

Before you start – Update your software

Exploiting email and web browsing applications is the most common way hackers and malware try to gain access to devices and your information.

Protect yourself before you start browsing the web by making sure that your operating system, web browser, security software, browser plugins (like Java or Adobe products) and other applications are up-to-date. Learn more about software updates.

Protect your web browser (and let your web browser protect you)

You can adjust the settings in your web browser to work in a more or less secure way. Some functionality might be limited when using the most secure settings, but they can provide the best protection from malicious content.

Most web browsers will give you warnings when they detect you visiting a malicious website or possibly being exposed to malicious content. Pay attention to these warnings – they can help protect you from malware, phishing and identity theft.

Learn more about the security settings on your browser

Settings and security models are different for each browser. Visit the following vendor websites to learn more about the security settings in your browser:

Note: If your device has different profiles for different users, the browser security settings may need to be changed for each user.

Use safe behaviour

Use the following advice when browsing the web to significantly reduce your risk of being a victim of cybercrime:

  • Use strong unique passwords online. Learn how to create strong passwords and passphrases.
  • Only download files and applications from websites that you trust, such as from official app stores or legitimate organisations, such as your bank.
  • Pause and think carefully before clicking on links in email, messages or on social networking sites. Don’t click on links in messages if you don’t know the sender or if the message is unexpected.
  • If you think a link looks suspicious or you can’t tell where it leads to, before you click hover over that link to see the actual web address it will take you to (usually shown at the bottom of the browser window). If you do not recognize or trust the address, try searching for relevant key terms in a web browser. This way you can find the article, video, or webpage without directly clicking on the suspicious link.
  • Expand shortened URLS to check if they are safe. Short URLs are often used in social media. There are a number of services that create short links - such as goo.gl, bit.ly, tinyurl.com, ow.ly and youtu.be. To check if these links are safe you can use an ‘expand link’ facility to get the original URL from a shortened link without having to click through to the destination. Look for a short URL expander that is recommended by your anti-virus software or a reputable software company.
  • Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true. Leave websites that ask for your personal or banking details in return for money – these are scams. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t agree to friend requests from people you don’t know on social media networks - people are not always who they say they are. Learn more about protecting yourself when using social media.

When making purchases online:

  • Check if the site is reputable and has a refund policy
  • When making payments, check that you are using a secure connection. The URL of the payment page will use ‘https’ instead of ‘http’, and a padlock icon will be displayed by your browser.
  • If the website looks suspicious or you have doubts – do not proceed. Learn more about making purchases online safely.
  • Know that threats such as malware, phishing, identity theft and other types of fraud and scams are a risk online. Learn more about these threats and sign up for regular alerts from Stay Smart Online.
  • Malware can be delivered through malicious advertising (known as malvertising). Using an adblocker can stop malware from being delivered through your browser. Some browsers include an AdBlock feature in their Settings under ‘Extensions’. For further help, search for adblocker in the online help or support center for your web browser.
  • Avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access or provide personal information. Don’t use online banking or make payments with credit cards using public computers or Wi-Fi. Learn how to use public Wi-Fi and online banking safely.

Cookies and security

Cookies are small text files – bits of information – left on your computer by websites you have visited which let them 'remember' things about you.

Websites use cookies in order to gather information about their visitors. Cookies may also be used to store your preferences and settings for particular websites – which means your experience can be customized based on your past behaviour.

From a security perspective, cookies are unlikely to be used maliciously against you as they are just text read by your browser – they don’t contain any code that could be executed. However, websites are able to gather a lot of information about you and what you do on a website using cookies.

If you have concerns about how this might impact on your privacy, you could consider regularly clearing the cookies from your computer or device. Some browsers let you block them altogether. But note that this could affect your experience of some websites.

Visit your browser vendor’s website for more information on privacy and how to manage cookies.