How to improve your online security in five minutes

You don’t need an IT qualification to stay safe on the internet – it’s possible to improve your online security in a few minutes with some basic housekeeping

Thursday, 4 February, 2021

Online security is something we should all take a little more seriously than we actually do.

Most of us install antivirus software, but many people subsequently disable key functionalities to improve device performance.

We all know home WiFi networks are susceptible to malpractice, yet few of us ever change associated passwords – which are generally set to ‘password’ by default.

And you’ll struggle to find anyone who studies the full terms and conditions attached to smart home devices – even security gadgets like video doorbells or alarm systems.

There are numerous reasons for these oversights, ranging from a lack of time or technical expertise to sheer complacency.

However, there are easy ways to improve your online security which take a matter of minutes, and which don’t involve a computing degree or a lengthy T&C booklet…

Change your router’s passwords

There are two passwords associated with domestic broadband routers. The WiFi password lets wireless devices log on, while the admin password allows people to edit router settings.

The latter is typically a generic passcode like ‘admin’ or ‘password’. This is easy for criminals to guess and then change, locking you out of your own WiFi network.

Changing the admin password is usually completed through your web browser by entering an address like and then logging in.

Maximise security settings on smart devices

Improve your online security by ensuring devices connected to your home WiFi network aren’t themselves insecure – potentially offering a backdoor into your WiFi network.

With a myriad of smart gadgets on the market, this article can only offer general principles like ensuring data is exchanged with the wireless router only when necessary.

Don’t provide the device manufacturer with user data unless it’s essential, change the default password on first setup, and ensure device-specific software or firmware is kept up to date.

Cover webcams when not in use

Last year, we explained how cheap webcam covers could save you from extortion. It’s also important to ensure smartphone selfie-cams can’t see anything potentially compromising.

Otherwise, criminals could potentially hijack a webcam and record what it sees (even while it’s ostensibly switched off), for the purposes of blackmail.

More importantly, you can’t dismiss any claims that they’ve obtained covert footage. And while you should never pay a sextortion demand, ignoring it will be anxiety-inducing.

Avoid public WiFi networks

When they’re allowed to open, hospitality venues make a big deal about offering free WiFi to paying customers and guests. However, anyone can access these networks.

Because the access password is provided to everyone, these networks are susceptible to someone eavesdropping on the data being sent by different devices for fraud or identity theft purposes.

Stick to 4G or 5G networks in public. If you have to use WiFi, log into a pre-installed VPN on your device, or browse generic websites which don’t involve sharing confidential data.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!