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Science, Maths & Technology

The Internet: It's not all bad

Updated Tuesday, 28th October 2014

Don’t be afraid of the Internet; be wary, be cautious, but keep on using it. By taking some simple steps you can greatly reduce the risk to yourself and to your family.

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In the BBC series Cybercrimes, Ben Hammersley introduces you to a huge number of threats to ourselves, to friends and families, our employers and perhaps to our society. On OpenLearn we’ve created a number of pages that will give you more detail than we could possibly have fitted into the programmes.

This is the place to look if you want to know more about the workings of Tor, BitTorrent and Bitcoin. We’ve also added some background to how the Internet works and why it’s hard to stop piracy and fraud and keep the Internet going.

Just in case the programmes have scared you off using the Internet – don’t be too afraid; be wary, be cautious, but keep on using it. By taking some fairly simple steps you can greatly reduce the risk to yourself and to your family. We’ve provided a few links that can give you really useful advice about staying safe online.

Computer security

If you want to be kept informed about security threats that might affect you, the Faculty of Maths, Computing and Technology at The Open University offers a free Safe Computing service. It will send regular email messages telling you about major security threats to computer users and how you can stay safe online. The email subscription sign-up and introductory advice can be found on the Safe Computing website.

Microsoft Windows users are the targets of most malicious software. Microsoft provides a free set of security tools for all modern version of Windows. If you don’t have protection against malware you should make sure you install this free Microsoft Security Essentials software or another similar package.

Staying safe online

Most social media sites and Internet Service Providers have special telephone numbers or support email addresses where you can report illegal or unsuitable materials. For social media sites these include:

The UK has a dedicated police team set up to combat fraud and Internet crime. You can contact Action Fraud via their website.

If you are outside the UK, your national, state or local police will probably have a similar service. These are not emergency services, so if you, or someone else is in immediate danger, you should use the appropriate emergency number.

Keeping children safe online

The UK Safer Internet Centre is a collection of resources aimed at children and young people to help them stay safe online. There are also resources for parents so they can be informed about the risks of the Internet and teaching material for schools and other educators.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children also has a large collection of materials aimed at protecting children.

Learn more

As well as websites belonging to reputable news services there are a number of websites that regularly feature security and cybercrime stories. These are some of our favourites:

Bruce Schneier on Security

Bruce Schneier not only talks about computer security, he helped invent some of the technologies that help keep us safe online.

Brian Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs was a contributor to Cybercrimes and was previously a reporter for the Washington Post. He continues to report on, and break stories about online security.


Ars is a large technology website that, among a huge amount of other content, produces detailed stories about security on a regular basis. It is known for well-informed, highly readable content and is a good place to learn more about a story that you might have seen elsewhere.


This is a high-technology lifestyle magazine with some excellent writers. WIRED has almost unrivalled access to high technology companies so if you want to know what’s coming in the near future (for good or bad), it’s a good place to look.

Privacy-related links

Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance were first reported in the Guardian which maintains a constantly growing archive of articles about the story as well as background reading about key aspects of the technologies concerned.

Reset the Net is a campaign backed by human rights charities as well as large Internet companies that encourages people to take online privacy more seriously. They have provided a set of free, easy-to-use tools (including the TORBrowser) for most computers and mobile phones that can secure your data and which provide greater privacy than most other applications.





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