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Protect your computer

A computer connected to the internet is at risk from rogue programs called viruses. They spread from computer to computer in email attachments and files downloaded from the internet.

If a virus infects your computer, it can make it slow and even leave you open to identity theft. To keep your computer safe, you should have security software installed and up to date. You will need:

  • anti-virus software to look for and remove viruses
  • firewall software to create a barrier between your computer and the internet, which will block viruses and prevent anyone from connecting to your computer without permission
  • anti-spyware software to prevent programs that allow unwanted adverts to pop up, track your activities or scan your computer for private data, such as credit card numbers.

How to choose security software

There are many types of anti-spyware, anti-virus and firewall software available, but the best option for beginners is to purchase a complete suite from a reputable provider, such as McAfee or Norton. You can download these programs from the internet or visit a computer store on the high street to ask for guidance.

It’s a good idea to check with your internet service provider, because they will often offer security software as part of your broadband deal. There are also popular free alternatives available online, such as AVG, Avast and Microsoft Security Essentials (if you have Windows 7, Vista or XP).

Keep your computer updated

Whatever operating system your computer runs (e.g. Windows or Mac OS), keep it updated because this will give you stronger protection from new viruses. You should receive notifications when new updates are available, but you can also update your software manually.

If you use Windows, find the ‘Windows Update’ icon – this could be in your ‘Start’ menu or listed in ‘All Programs’. You can also go to the Windows Update site, where you will find instructions on how to enable your computer to automatically download and install updates as they become available.

If you have the older Windows XP, note that Microsoft is no longer sending out security updates for it. This will make your computer more vulnerable to infection with a virus. Visit Get Safe Online to find out what to do to stay safe.

You can get the latest software updates for Mac OS through the Mac App Store. Visit the Apple site for instructions on how to update your software.

Protect your wireless network

If you have a wireless router, check that your wireless network is secure so that people living nearby can’t access it. It should be the case that only people with a wireless ‘key’ (i.e. password) can connect to your network.

Users will be prompted for the key when they try to access the network for the first time. If this doesn’t happen and no padlock symbol is displayed next to your wireless network, your network is currently not protected.

Read the instructions that came with your router to find out how to set up a wireless key and make your network more secure.

For more information about anti-virus software and protecting your wireless network, visit the Get Safe Online website.

Further information


Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

You can download other guides in our series from publications

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081

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