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Budget 2020

Government invests £5 billion into gigabit-capable broadband plan

Posted on 2020-03-14 15:46 in News

The Government has reaffirmed its plan to extend the UK's gigabit-capable broadband network nationwide.

In the Spring budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiled £5 billion of funding to roll out better broadband in the hardest-to-reach areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This covers around 20% of the country, with a particular focus on rural areas.

He also announced the next seven areas that will receive funding from the existing £1 billion Local Full Fibre Challenge. These are North of Tyne (£12 million), South Wales (£12 million), Tay Cities (£6.7 million), Pembrokeshire (£4 million), Plymouth (£3 million), Essex and Hertfordshire (£2.1 million) and East Riding of Yorkshire (£1 million).

The Government said that it has rolled out full-fibre broadband to over 370,000 premises to date, and announced their intention to legislate to ensure that new build homes have access to gigabit-capable broadband.

The plan started life as part of Boris Johnson's Tory leadership campaign, when he set an ambitious target of rolling out full-fibre to everyone by 2025. This was subsequently watered down to "gigabit-capable", which means that mobile broadband over the 5G network is likely to be needed to take up some of the slack.

The Government's investment is designed to cover the parts of the country where the spending on infrastructure is less commercially viable. The private sector will be required to fund the rest of the project.

The Internet Services Providers’ Association welcomed the announcement, but also restated their existing concerns about being able to meet Downing Street's deadline.

"Increased funding alone will not allow the industry to get the job done," they said. "Broadband rollout is largely privately funded and in order to provide industry with a chance to meet the Government’s 2025 ambition, today’s announcements needs to be backed up with further reform on wayleaves, new build legislation, action on street works and further investment into digital and engineering skills."

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Landline telephone

Can you get broadband without a phone line?

Posted on 2020-03-13 17:32 in Features

If you're anything like us, most of your landline calls these days come from salespeople, spammers and scammers.

Most real calls are now handled on our mobiles, and we only have a landline because we need it for broadband.

But do we need actually need a phone line, or can we get broadband without one?

How to get broadband without a phone line

In short, yes, you can get broadband without a phone line, but your choices are limited.

Most UK providers work on the BT-owned Openreach network, which carries the broadband signal into your home via the old copper telephone wires. This is true even with fibre, where the fibre cables only run as far as your nearest street cabinet. A working phone line is a must with any of these providers, which include the likes of BT, Sky, EE, Plusnet and many more.

To get broadband without a phone line, then, you need to choose a provider that doesn't use Openreach. The biggest of these is Virgin Media.

Virgin use their own cable infrastructure that's totally separate from the phone network. When you get it installed an engineer runs a cable from a connection point on the pavement, to a wall box they attach to the outside of your house. This also happens to be why Virgin can offer faster speeds, since the coaxial cables they use for this are a lot more efficient than copper wires.

You can still get a phone line with Virgin if you want one, and you can usually keep your number, too. But if you don't need it, you don't have to have it.

Virgin Media broadband is available to over half the UK. Use our postcode checker to see if you can get it where you are.

Other than Virgin, you've got two options.

One is to use a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) provider. These run the fibre cables right up to your house, bypassing the need to use the existing phone network. These services are a lot faster, providing speeds of up to 1Gb. However, they aren't widely available: the Government has pledged to invest £5 billion in extending this "full-fibre" network nationwide, but until then it's mostly accessible only to new build areas and apartment blocks.

Full-fibre is available from smaller names like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, and big brands like Vodafone. A landline isn't included at all with these services, so if you need one you'll have to acquire it separately through a different provider. Full-fibre suppliers usually offer a VOIP calls package, which gives you a phone number and allows you to make landline-equivalent calls over the internet. Of course, if your internet goes down so does your phone service.

The other option to look at for broadband without a phone line is mobile broadband. Most of the major mobile networks offer broadband plans over their 4G and 5G networks specifically for home use. They often come with data limits and can be more expensive, so aren't for everyone. But they are worth looking at.

Got a phone line? You don't need a phone

It has to be said that there's no price benefit to choosing broadband without a phone line. The charge for line rental is now built into the total price of your broadband package, and it doesn't work out any more expensive to take this route than going landline-free.

So if Virgin or FTTH providers are off limits to you, or you'd rather pick from a larger number of suppliers, feel free to shop around for the best broadband deals.

You will need a phone line for these other providers, and if you're switching away from Virgin and don't already have an active line installed you'll need to get that sorted first. Suppliers will take care of it for you when you sign up, and you can expect to pay extra for it. This can be anything up to around £60, depending on the provider and what deal you're signing up to.

But remember that just because you need a phone line, it doesn't mean you have to use it.

If it's a brand new line and no-one's got your number, just don't plug in a phone and you can forget it's there. If people do have your number, leave a phone connected for incoming calls only.

Keep this in mind when you sign up to a broadband plan. Most providers offer an optional calls package, giving you a range of anytime, evening, weekend or international calls for a flat rate. Make sure you need this before you sign up to it; it's an easy way to add an extra £5 or £10 a month to your bill without any real benefit. If you normally have leftover minutes on your mobile plan you'll probably be better off sticking with that instead.

Ready to shop for broadband with or without a phone line? Check out the latest deals now.

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Online privacy

Protect your privacy online

Posted on 2020-03-02 13:39 in Features

While everyone knows about the importance of online security, online privacy is rarely treated with quite the same level of urgency.

It's probably that strange old "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear" mindset, coupled with the fact that most of us are happy to trade a little personal info in return for some cool, free stuff. Who among us is willing to give up on YouTube or Google Maps?

But there's complacency in this thinking. Your personal data is incredibly valuable. Ad companies want to use it to sell you things, politicians can use it to manipulate the way you vote, and if the services that harvest it ever get breached you can be left vulnerable to scams or identity theft.

Assuming you don't want to just shut down your Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft accounts, what can you do to protect your privacy? Here's a few simple changes you can make today.

Review your search and social accounts' settings

Chances are, when you first set up your Google, Facebook and other accounts you took a quick glance over the privacy settings and then never thought about it again. These companies harvest massive amounts of data on you, but with growing concerns about what they collect and how they use it, they've all introduced new privacy controls. It's time for another look.

  • Google (including YouTube). By default Google stores all of your activity forever. But if you delve into the Data & Personalisation section of your account you can set it to automatically delete any data from apps and searches, location history, and YouTube activity that's more than three months old. This lets you keep Google's clever personalised results, but doesn't let them keep a record on your going back a decade a more.
  • Facebook. It's much harder to lock down Facebook as they track you online even if you don't have an account. However, the new Off-Facebook Activity feature gives you a little control. It lets you see which companies have been tracking you and sending data to Facebook, and lets you "disconnect" it from your account - the data doesn't get deleted, but does get anonymised. You just have to remember to do it manually.
  • Twitter. In Twitter, you should turn off the Personalization and Data feature, which allows the service to infer information about who you are based on your activity and then share it all with advertisers.

The same kinds of settings will be required for your other social sites and services, you can always search the web for the service's name and 'privacy controls' to get an up to date step by step guide for whichever site or app you're using.

Whatever services you use, it's worth taking a few minutes to review your account to make sure you aren't giving away too much information.

Consider an alternative search provider

Google isn't your only choice for searches. There are other search providers, like DuckDuckGo, Qwant or StartPage, that have a strong focus on your privacy, promising searches with no tracking or ad targeting.

Of course you'll have to balance the privacy benefits of not being tracked at all over the possible loss of quality in search results as it won't have any idea of who you are, where you are or what your interests are - all cues that Google uses to improve the quality and relevance of searches.

Our advice is to try one of the many privacy focused search engines available, and see if you feel you're getting less useful results. If you're still happy with the search experience then set your choice as your browser's new default search provider.

Don't overshare information

If you're a keen social media user it can be easy to get sucked into sharing too much information without even realising. A lot of the stuff you post, including pictures, may seem pretty harmless, but it builds up to quite the profile over time, and tends to stay online for many years. Something you're happy to share today may be something you'll regret in the future.

And it's not just about you - make sure you don't post things your kids don't want the world to see either. (For more on how to protect your children online, see our guide on how to set up parental controls.)

It can also be a security issue. Things like your birthday, schools you attended, pets names and so on are commonly used as security questions by banks. You don't really want to be putting all this info out there publicly for anyone to see.

Lock down your browser

It's hard to avoid being tracked as you travel round the web, but there are a few simple steps you can take to limit the extent to which companies can follow you.

One of the main ways companies track you is by using cookies. These are small text files stored on your computer or phone that are used to identify you. Most web browsers, including Chrome and Microsoft Edge, let you block cookies from third parties, making it harder for random ad companies to follow you from site to site.

Also, use the private browsing mode whenever you don't want to be tracked. This doesn't hide your online activity, but it does let you browse somewhat anonymously - you won't get logged in to sites, and cookies will be disabled.

For the best protection try a browser plugin like Privacy Badger or DuckDuckGo's Chrome privacy plugin. These automatically block a lot of the known tracking services, and learn as they go. These can be fantastic tools for letting you browse in peace.

Or use a different browser altogether

Around two-thirds of all internet users use Google Chrome as their browser on a desktop or laptop, and it's also the default on most Android smartphones. It gives Google access to a massive amount of data on your activities, and is also pretty limited in its all-round privacy options.

If you want to try and cut down on how much companies know about you, an easy solution is to change to a different browser. Either Firefox or Brave would be a great choice, although there are many more options. Both come with a huge range of privacy controls baked in, and block over 2000 separate trackers, including Facebook. They also work on your Android or iOS phone.

Beware apps that hoover up your data

Smartphone apps can rank among the biggest invaders of our privacy. They often grab as much personal data as they can - your age, your location, your phone number, what other apps you use, and a whole lot more - without you knowing, and without it being obvious why they need it. Some companies might then share this data with Facebook, even if you aren't logged in to your account, and others might even sell it.

Always check the permissions an app asks for before you install it, and decide whether the permission is appropriate. Why does that wallpaper app need to know your location, and does that game really need to access your camera? Leaky apps are a bigger problem on Android phones, but don't assume you're off the hook if you're an iPhone user. Research suggests nearly 40% of iOS apps make sketchy permissions requests.

Use a VPN and other security tools

There's more you can do to safeguard your privacy. Make sure the websites you visit are secure: the address should begin with https and your browser should display a little padlock symbol in the address bar. You can use a VPN to encrypt and anonymise your connection to the internet so that your broadband provider isn't able to log meta data from your online activities. Also, use secure messaging apps like Telegram or WhatsApp for your private chats, although do bear in mind that WhatsApp - along with Instagram - are owned by Facebook.

Ultimately, managing your privacy does involve a bit of compromise. It's impossible to go fully off the radar without completely changing the way you use the internet. But these few tweaks can certainly help, and they'll also make you more aware of exactly what you're putting online, who's going to see it, and how they're going to use it.

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Ofcom

Ofcom intro's new rules for when your broadband contract ends

Posted on 2020-02-17 12:40 in News

Do you know when your broadband contract ends? If you don't, you aren't alone. Millions of people have no idea about the status of their deals.

Many are already out of contract - and it's leaving them out of pocket.

Industry watchdog Ofcom are introducing new rules this month to tackle the problem. They'll force broadband providers to be a whole lot more proactive about making sure you know your options, telling you when your contract ends, and also what better deals they could give you.

Currently, research shows that around one in seven users don’t know whether they're still tied to their original deal, and a further one in eight believe they are still in contract, but have no idea when it ends.

The reason why this matters is that if you stick with a deal after the initial agreement is over a so-called "loyalty penalty" kicks in and you end up paying, on average, 20% more than you should be for your internet access. That figure rises to a hefty 26% if the deal includes a pay TV bundle.

Ever eager to ensure customers can access the best deals possible, Ofcom's new rules come into force on 15th February.

From that date onwards your broadband supplier will have to:

  • warn you between 10 and 40 days before your contract is due to end, by letter, email or SMS
  • inform you of the price you pay today, and what you will pay after your contract ends
  • tell you of any other changes that will happen to your deal
  • give you information about any notice period needed if you want to switch providers
  • show you the best deals they currently offer, including prices usually reserved for new customers
  • continue informing you of their best prices every year you remain on your old plan

What to do when your broadband contract ends

But even with this help, the broadband market can be difficult to navigate. The wide range of deals available can be confusing, and it's not always clear what the best choice is.

Our new guide on what to do when your broadband contract ends explains all the rule changes in full, and outlines your options. Once your deal is up you're in a strong position negotiate a new price with your existing provider, and you're also free to shop around for the best broadband deals and switch to a new ISP.

We've also set up a helpline you can call to get advice on what your next steps should be. If you're unsure what the right choice is, need help choosing a provider, or have questions about contracts or the switching process, our impartial advisors are on hand to help. Give us a call on 0800 093 0405, or you can arrange for us to call you if it's more convenient. We're open from 9am to 8pm weekdays, and 9am to 6pm on Saturdays.

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Public Wi-Fi

How to stay safe when using public Wi-Fi

Posted on 2020-02-07 14:32 in Features

From supermarkets to shopping centres, airports to train stations, public Wi-Fi is everywhere. It's convenient and very often free. What's not to love?

Unfortunately, using a public Wi-Fi hotspot does carry risks. In fact, without taking a few precautions you could have your data intercepted, login or bank details stolen, or see your computer infected with malware.

How does this happen? One of the biggest threats is something called a man-in-the-middle attack. This is where hackers are able to exploit vulnerabilities on a network to position themselves between you and the Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling them to snoop on your activities or even divert you to fake websites where they can steal your data. You won't even notice it's happening.

Public Wi-Fi can also potentially be used to distribute viruses and other malware to connected devices. And with the rise in the number of public hotspots, some of the hotspots themselves may even be wholly fake. They might present themselves as being connected to the coffee shop you're sat in, but are in fact created for malicious purposes.

These risks apply whether you're connected with a laptop, tablet or your phone.

Stay safe on public Wi-Fi

This is not to say that you shouldn't use public Wi-Fi at all. The good news is that by taking a few simple steps, and understanding the potential problems, you can remove most of the risk. Here are your public Wi-Fi dos and don'ts:

Don't just connect to a random hotspot. Don't be tempted to hop onto any old wireless network within range, make sure you know what it is first. Ideally, choose secure networks - password protected and possibly even paid - over free, open ones.

Make sure the hotspot is legit. Just because the hotspot is called "Hotel Wi-Fi" it doesn't mean it's an official service. Always check that you're connecting to the right network, and if you have to ask staff for the password or get it off a receipt or leaflet then that's even better.

Don't set your device to automatically connect. Make sure your devices aren't set to join open networks as they come within range.

Use a VPN for full protection. A VPN is a piece of software that encrypts and secures your connection to the internet. Even if someone does manage to intercept your data they won't be able to do anything with it. See our guide on why and how to use a VPN for more information.

Keep your devices up to date. This should go without saying, but make sure you install all available updates on your laptop and other devices. Use antivirus software and a firewall for extra security. Some broadband providers offer free antivirus tools for their users, so check to see if yours does.

Try to avoid logging in to sensitive sites. Here's the simplest way to stay safe on public Wi-Fi: just don't use it for anything important. If you need to check your bank account use the app on your phone instead, connected to your mobile network.

Keep an eye on your surroundings. It's not just virtual snoopers you need to watch out for. "Shoulder surfing" is a real thing - it's the most low-tech form of hacking, where someone literally watches over your shoulder as you type in your password.

Use mobile broadband. If you need to use the internet regularly when you're not at home or in the office, you might be better off signing up to a mobile broadband deal rather than relying on public services. Not only will it be much more secure, you're likely to find it faster and more reliable, too. Want to know more? Browse the best mobile broadband deals now.

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Frustrated man stares at laptop

Vodafone tops broadband complaints table for second quarter

Posted on 2020-01-31 17:15 in News Vodafone EE Sky

Vodafone home broadband have once again topped industry watchdog Ofcom's list of shame as the most complained about of the 8 biggest broadband suppliers. By contrast, EE and Sky have shared the glory as the least complained-about providers.

Ofcom complaint figures for the 3rd quarter of last year show that Vodafone garnered 26 complaints per every 100,000 customers between July and September 2019. This was an improvement on the 30 per 100,000 they hit in the previous quarter, but was still close to double the industry average. Almost 4 in 10 of the grievances related to faults and service issues.

In a difficult period, Vodafone also topped the chart for the most landline complaints (18 per 100,000) and were joint top for mobile (7 per 100,000, with Virgin Mobile).

Of the rest of the Big Eight, Plusnet, TalkTalk and Virgin Media also generated an above average number of complaints. At the end of 2018 Plusnet were by far the most complained about provider with a whopping 43 complaits per 100,000 subscribers, but they have improved every quarter since and are now equal to TalkTalk. Meanwhile Virgin Media saw the biggest rise in complaints across 2019, having started at 10 per 100,000 in the first quarter. Across the board, the main causes of the gripes were complaints handling (32%), faults and service issues (31%), and billing problems (20%).

Meanwhile, EE and Sky were shown to be the Big Eight providers that left their users feeling happiest. Their 5 complaints each per 100,000 customers was nearly two-thirds less than the overall industry average and less than a fifth of the complaint levels received by Vodafone Home Broadband.

Here's the full rundown of the Big Eight's broadband complaints per every 100,000 customers:

Ofcom's Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints report is released quarterly, and covers providers with a market share of over 1.5%. It counts complaints received by the regulator, but doesn't include those sent directly to the provider or any other body.

The report also covers landline (worst performer: Vodafone; best performer: EE), mobile (worst: Vodafone and Virgin Media; best: Tesco Mobile), and pay TV services (worst: Virgin Media; best: Sky).

How to compare smaller broadband providers

Ofcom's research comes in very handy when you're shopping for a new broadband provider, as it gives you a good overview of the general performance of each company. But it does exclude the smaller providers who often offer interesting services, such as the no-contract deals from NOW Broadband or the near-gigabit internet from Hyperoptic.

So what can you do if you're considering one of these companies? Our broadband listings measure overall user satisfaction levels for each provider, as well as their performance on customer service, speed and reliability issues. You can see their most recent ratings or a historic figure for all time, allowing you to judge whether their performance has worsened over time. Zen Broadband currently top our rankings.

Along with the ratings we've got over 20,000 user reviews across all the providers. It gives you an unmatched insight into the kind of experience you'll get with each company, and what issues you may or may not have with them.

You can see all the scores on our Broadband Reviews page, and just click through to read the feedback for each broadband. We'd also encourage you to leave a rating and review of your own, even if you have no complaints. The more information we share, the easier it becomes to choose the right broadband provider.

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Online scam

How to spot an online scam

Posted on 2020-01-24 17:20 in Features

Online scams are a billion pound industry in the UK. Their number, type and sophistication are growing all the time.

You don't have to fall victim, though. So long as you know what to look for, and how to avoid them, you can go a long way towards keeping yourself - and your bank account - safe. Here's how to spot scam emails and websites.

  • It doesn't look professional. Typos and general bad English are a common sight in many online scams, and are an immediate warning that something is off.
  • It demands urgent action. A lot of scam emails try to frighten you into acting quickly, without thinking about what you're doing. These are often security-related - your Google account has been compromised, or the Inland Revenue is about to take you to court for an unpaid tax bill, and so on.
  • The contact was unexpected. Most email scams are not targeted, they're sent to thousands of people in the hope that someone will be snared. If you receive an email out of the blue, treat it with caution, or just delete it. Similarly, companies are unlikely to contact you by tracking you down on WhatsApp or some other random service.
  • They request personal information. No reputable business will ever ask you for sensitive personal information, especially bank details, passwords or PINs in an email.
  • The deal's too good to be true. The old adage: if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't be tempted by offers of free money, even if it's a tax rebate - a common scam itself.
  • They ask for unusual payment methods. You get a layer of protection when you pay for something by credit card or through a service like PayPal. Being asked to pay in an unusual way - through a bank transfer, bitcoin or even iTunes vouchers - is an immediate red flag.
  • It contains threats. Not all scams try to convince you they're innocent. Some are open attempts at extortion. An email might claim your webcam has been hacked and you've been spied on (spoiler alert: it hasn't). It might mention one of your old passwords or part of your phone number to make you feel even more vulnerable. Don't worry, most likely this has been leaked by some other service that was hacked and is now freely available online. Delete and move on.

How to avoid being scammed

Knowing what to look out for is the first step towards avoiding falling victim to a scam. On top of that there are a number of other steps you can take to keep yourself safe.

First of all, be suspicious. Simply being aware of the prevalence of online scams should help you continually question the emails you receive and the websites you visit. Don't give out passwords, PINs or other sensitive information because genuine companies will never ask for it. Keep an eye out for topical scams as well. When the holiday firm Thomas Cook went bust recently, a bogus website sprung up claiming to be able to help customers claim back their money.

Also, watch out for scams that start offline. While you're looking out for dodgy emails and websites, it's easy to be thrown off guard by approaches you weren't expecting. This could be a call from someone claiming to be from your broadband provider, or from Microsoft tech support, or from Amazon, or Visa. Or a text message from a courier asking you to re-arrange delivery of a package. All of which will lead you to either hand over your credit card details, or install remote access software that gives a scammer control of your computer. These can be extra hard to spot because caller ID can be spoofed to make it look as though the call is genuine.

Try to verify who has sent an email by looking at the address in both the From and Reply To fields, and also check the URL of any websites you visit. When you visit important sites like your bank, type the address directly into your browser or use a bookmark rather than clicking a link.

And try and use reputable sites when you're shopping, or at least check online reviews of a business before you hand over any money. There's a growing market for ticket scams, where a slick-looking website sells high priced concert tickets that don't actually exist.

Above all, exercise good PC health. Use anti-virus software (some broadband providers offer this for free). Don't re-use passwords. Check your online accounts regularly for any suspicious activity. Don't share too much personal information on social media, and restrict who can see it. And if you do encounter an attempted scam, always report it.

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Amazon Echo security and privacy

6 ways to improve your Amazon Echo security and privacy

Posted on 2020-01-17 18:43 in Features

"Alexa, tell me what's been the hottest gadget of the last few years."

The Amazon Echo range of smart speakers have been a smash hit. They're helping to usher in the next generation of consumer tech, where we can chat to our devices instead of being glued to their screens.

One of the things that makes them so popular is how easy to use they are. They're good to go straight out of the box. Yet even so, there's still a few tweaks you can make if you want to improve an Echo's security and your privacy.

1. Set up a PIN to prevent voice purchases

Alexa makes it easy to shop on Amazon. Maybe too easy. If you'd like to control who can purchase things on your Echo, or put an obstacle in the way of your impulse buys, you can. Sign in at alexa.amazon.co.uk and set up a four digit PIN.

To enter your PIN on an Amazon Echo you have to speak it out loud, so it's not exactly an uncrackable security system. Think of it more as a way to prevent accidental purchases. Alternatively, you can disable voice purchasing entirely. You'll still be able to add things to your cart, but you need to complete the purchase on your phone or laptop.

2. Change the wake word

The Echo leaps into action the moment it hears its name. It's mostly pretty great, but isn't ideal if you've got more than one of the devices in your house, and could become outright annoying if you happen to live with someone called Alexa.

Fortunately, you can change the wake word if you need to, via the app. You don't get to set it to literally any word you want, you have to pick it from an approved list. Your options include things like "Echo", "Amazon" or "Computer".

3. Delete your voice recordings from time to time

If you're concerned about the privacy implications of smart speakers, you can allay some of your fears by clearing out your Voice History from time to time. You can do this on either the app or the website, where you'll see transcripts of all the voice commands you've given to your Alexa device. By default, they'll remain on Amazon's servers forever, so it's a good idea to find and remove any that you don't want to keep (or just get rid of them all).

4. Protect your privacy

Here's a bonus tip for the tinfoil hat brigade. Your Echo only starts recording when you say the wake word, but it is listening all the time. If you aren't comfortable with that you can turn off voice activation entirely by pressing the microphone button. It'll stay off until you press it again (although it can be hard to tell if it's off). If you've got an Echo with a built-in camera, you might want to use the cover supplied to ensure there's no risk of surreptitious filming, too.

And to complete your privacy upgrade, head over to the Echo settings and deactivate the "Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services and to Develop New Features" option. This prevents any of your recordings being accessible to Amazon workers for research purposes.

5. Don't overuse Alexa Skills

Alexa Skills are little apps you can install to upgrade the functionality of your Amazon Echo. You can use them to control your thermostat, give you a workout, book an Uber, and much more. But whenever third party apps are involved there's a slight security risk.

We'd recommend giving the privacy policies of your chosen Skills a quick once over to make sure they aren't going to snaffle your data; try to stick to popular, well-rated Skills; and uninstall any that you no longer use.

6. Beef up your router's security

Finally, whenever you connect up a new device that's accessible to the outside world, it's a good idea to double check that your router's security is as sound as it could be. Take a look at our guide on how to secure your router for the full lowdown on keeping your home network safe.

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Virgin Media

One million Virgin Media customers can look forward to a free speed upgrade

Posted on 2020-01-10 18:42 in News Virgin Media

Are you a Virgin Media customer who joined before 1st December 2019 on one of their 54Mbps M50 packages? If so, the chances are you're eligible for a free upgrade to the M100 package, with average speeds of 108Mbps! This means that over half a million customers can expect to see their average downloads speeds double, and some may even see their speeds increase up to 5 times more! These upgrades are automatically rolling out now, no need for you to do anything to take advantage of it. You'll be emailed when the upgrade is complete, and you can enjoy your new, zippier download speeds.

What does this speed increase mean in practical terms? Well, you won't really see a big difference for simple, every day tasks such as browsing the internet, watching cat videos on YouTube and streaming music; these are all things you can do on a standard broadband connection. Where it will have a big impact is if you stream TV and films in UHD (4K), especially if several members of your household want to watch different things at the same time. 50Mbps is enough to stream a UHD film for one person, but more than that and your connection may start to struggle.

This speed upgrade will also benefit gamers, who frequently download games, large updates and patches, and these can take quite a while to grab. The average game is between 30GB to 50GB in size (and they keep getting bigger, with the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 hitting around 150GB). A 30GB game takes nearly 90 minutes to download on a 50Mbps connection, whereas it would take just over 40 minutes with a 100Mbps. So the faster your download speed, the faster you'll be playing your games.

If you're not one of the lucky ones to get your speed doubled, you may still be able to get a better speed from your provider without paying any extra! Our newly updated Upgrades Guide tells you what you need to know.

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Online Security

Don't get hacked! Top tips for locking down all your online accounts

Posted on 2019-12-24 15:59 in Features

Passwords. Ugh! You use dozens of them every day, but do you really give any thought to how good they are? Are they actually keeping your accounts safe, or are they as secure as leaving a key under the doormat?

Online security can seem both complicated and boring, a lethal combination that means we don't take it as seriously as we should. Yet it doesn't have to be. With just a few simple steps you can lock down all your accounts in no time.

Don't re-use passwords on important accounts...

It's hard enough to remember five passwords, let along 50 or 500. That's why we all get lured into creating one decent password and using it over and over again. You've been told this before: it's a really bad idea.

Here's the problem. Online services get hacked all the time; they get infected with malware; sometimes they just go wrong. And it usually results in a data breach that exposes their users' info.

And is isn't just limited to small or obscure websites. Brands of all sizes and all kinds get hit - from TalkTalk to Teletext Holidays to Marriot Hotels. They've all leaked data at one time or another.

Very often it's email addresses and passwords that get exposed. They get posted (or sold) online where anyone can see them, for whatever reason. If your password happens to be among them, and you've re-used it on other sites, all your accounts on those sites are at risk.

You can check if your email address is associated with any data breaches at haveibeenpwned.com. If it has, make sure you didn't re-use the password associated with the breached account. And if you did, change them now, and make sure they're not on the list of most commonly used passwords.

...but you can on unimportant accounts

All that said, there are times when it is perfectly acceptable to re-use passwords, though we'd recommend tweaking them a little bit to include the initials of the site or service just to add an extra bit of security while still being easy to remember.

While you'll obviously want to lock down accounts that contain your personal or financial details, most of us use countless services and sites where security doesn't matter at all. We're thinking online forums, and other random services that you log into once to maybe ask a question or read an article, and then forget about.

For those that don't contain any kind of personal or finiancial information, and you wouldn't care if you lost access to them tomorrow, feel free to use and re-use simple passwords as much as you like. But you do need to be sure that these accounts don't have access to anything else, such as social media accounts, or display any information you don't want public, such as your email address.

Managing your online security is a hassle. By cutting the number of important passwords you need to track, you can make it just a little easier.

Try using a single sign in on unimportant sites

Chances are you have a Facebook and/or Google account. Both of these should be locked down with very secure passwords as they contain a lot of personal and probably financial details - you don't want anyone getting into them. Many sites allow you to create accounts that are essentially tied to your Facebook or Google account, which means you can securely sign in with those credentials without having to create a whole new account and generate yet another secure password. If your Facebook and Google accounts are secure, they should be, too, and in the event that they do get hacked, changing your Facebook and Google passwords means those other accounts are covered as well.

Think passphrase instead of password

wgW7!@G%^45P. That's what a secure password looks like. It mixes uppercase and lowercase, numbers and special characters, and is pretty well uncrackable. It's also impossible to remember (and incredibly annoying to type).

An easy to remember password is, by definition, a bad password. But there is a neat compromise. When it comes to passwords, it turns out that length can actually be more important than complexity. So instead of coming up with short but complex passwords, try using a passphrase instead.

What is a passphrase? It's a much longer, more memorable alternative. Just pick four or five random words - they need to be genuinely random, don't use song titles or a line from a book - and string them together. You'll find it a whole lot easier to remember, yet the length gives it its security.

Want a bit of extra security? Use some special characters between words. Not all sites allow this, but where they do, take advantage of it. 'ThisRandomPassphrase' can be harder to crack if it's changed to 'This&Random&Passphrase'. If you can remember something slightly more complicated, you can also switch out letters with numbers and symbols that resemble them. For example, replace 'a' with '@' or 'e' with '3', and you have 'This&R@ndom&P@ssphr@s3'. As long as you can remember your scheme, you're good to go.

Use a password manager

Wouldn't it be great if you only ever had to remember one password? It is possible. Many security experts recommend using a password manager, a piece of software that locks and encrypts all your login credentials in a single place. You only need to remember the master password - so make sure it's a good one.

When you use a password manager you don't have to worry about making passwords memorable, so they can be as complex as you like. Most of the tools will offer to generate them for you. As a handy extra, they'll also automatically fill in your details on websites and apps when you visit them.

The best password managers work across your desktop, laptop and phone. Among the ones we recommend are:

What about getting your browser to save your passwords instead? That's also safe up to a point. Browsers do encrypt passwords, although anyone who's got access to your laptop or phone will be able to use them without any further checks.

And the most low-tech password manager of all? A piece of paper, kept in a safe place. We wouldn't recommend it at work, but for many of us it'll be fine at home.

Set up two-factor authentication

Getting your passwords up to scratch is the first step to improving your online security. There's one other thing you should do to properly lock down your most important accounts: use two-factor authentication (2FA).

The techie name doesn't help, but the idea behind 2FA is really simple. When you try to log in to a website or app that has it enabled, you have to enter both your password and one other piece of information - usually a short code sent to your phone by text or to an app. What it means is that even if someone does get hold of your password, they still can't log in to your account unless they have physical access to your phone.

You've probably used it already. Any time a bank texts you a code in order to verify a payment you're making, it's an example of 2FA in action. You can activate 2FA on all your main accounts - Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal and so on - and you really should.

If given the choice, use an app rather than SMS, since it's more secure. Authy is the best app to use, and it's pretty easy to set up, too.

Keep it simple

Managing passwords is no-one's idea of a fun afternoon. But weigh it up against the thought of losing access to your email, or having someone get into your bank account, and you realise it's well worth doing. The tips above show that a good security policy is not only safer, it's simpler too. And reducing the number of passwords you have to remember has got to be a good thing, right?

For more advice on online security check out our guides to setting up parental controls on your broadband, and how and why you need to change your router's security settings.

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