Computer and email security


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Computer and email security

A young family enjoying some time at a cafe with their laptop

What's coming up

The internet is a great source of information, but as with anything, there are some risks. It's good to remember that as long as you take some basic safety measures, your time online can be a safe and fun experience.

In this activity, you'll find out about possible risks to you and your computer and what you can do to avoid such risks.

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Online risks

The best way to protect your computer is to know what you're up against.

The three main risks are:

  1. Viruses
  2. Trojans
  3. Spyware.
A range of warning icons
Warning, security and computer icons


Viruses are programs that spread from one computer to another by email or through malicious websites.

Viruses can display unwanted pop-up messages, slow your computer down and even delete files.


Trojans are programs that pretend to be innocent but are in fact harmful to your PC.

They are designed to trick you into installing them, for example by offering to scan your computer for viruses.

An example of a Trojan and a safe pop-up window
Identifying information about a person


Spyware is software that is designed to steal personal information. For example, it can monitor what you do online and then steal passwords or bank account details.

A man concentrates on his computer screen

Protecting your computer

Knowing how to protect your computer from online risks is the key to enjoying the internet. Let's find out what you can do to keep your computer safe.

Anti-virus software

You can protect your computer from virus infections by installing anti-virus software. This protects your computer in two ways:

  • It scans all parts of your computer regularly for anything suspicious.
  • It monitors the files and programs you use, as you use them.
Anti-Virus Software pop up window with a range of icons
Anti-Virus Software pop up window with a range of performance charts

Anti-spyware software

Anti-spyware software helps protect your computer against pop-ups, slow performance and security threats caused by spyware and other unwanted software.

To keep up with the latest forms of spyware, you should keep your anti-spyware software updated.


A firewall is software that protects your computer against unauthorised access as well as some viruses and spyware.

It can also stop your computer being used to spread viruses or send spam emails. It works alongside anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

A computer and the internet symbol separated by a wall
A circling diagram with icons of how you can protect your computer from a virus

Protect yourself

It may seem like you need a lot of software to protect your computer from online risks, but this isn't the case. You can buy complete packages that include everything you need.

We have more on anti-virus software in our Downloading and saving documents course, if you want to find out more.

Updating anti-virus software

It is important to update your anti-virus protection regularly to ensure you are protected against the latest viruses.

When you buy a computer, you will often get a few months free use of anti-virus software, like Norton or McAfee. Make sure you renew or replace this when the trial runs out.

AVG is one of a number of providers that offer free anti-virus software so cost doesn't have to be an issue.

Anti-Virus Software pop up window warning that the software is out of date
A warning symbol on a computer screen

Let's take a closer look

It is important to install anti-virus updates on your computer regularly.

Let's go through the steps needed to update AVG anti-virus software. If you have different anti-virus software to AVG, don't worry, the steps are likely to be very similar.

Select the AVG icon

First, you would need to select the AVG icon (a multi-coloured square) at the bottom right of the screen. It is highlighted here for clarity.

A computer screen with the AVG icon selected and magnified
An AVG window displaying that you can 'scan now' for internet security

Scan now

In the 'Internet Security' section, choose the option that says 'Scan now'.


Next, you would need to wait a little while as the scan, or check, happens. 'Scanning' means 'checking' in this case.

An AVG window displaying that the internet security needs updating
An AVG window displaying that the scan is complete and the internet security is up-to-date


A message will appear to inform you that you are up to date.

Great, you've updated your virus protection.

Most anti-virus software has an automatic update mechanism built into it. This will download the latest updates on a regular basis.

Getting advice

There is plenty of useful advice available on how to stay safe online.

The Australian government's Stay Smart Online program is a great source of up-to-date information and advice.

a computer with a range of different icons behind it sampling a lot of things you can do on a computer
eSafety tip icon

eSafety Tip

You can reduce the risk of being affected by online crime by making sure you keep your device's software up-to-date, especially:

  • your web browser
  • your anti-virus software
  • your device's operating system
  • any anti-spyware software.

Offers, spam and junk email

Think twice before opening emails and especially email attachments from people you don't know.

Many email programs filter incoming emails automatically, and suspicious emails are sent to a junk email or spam folder, instead of the inbox.

But they may not capture all suspicious emails, so it pays to be cautious when opening emails from untrusted sources. If you have any doubt about the email, it's best to ignore or delete it.

An example of some emails in the junk mail folder
A avatar of a woman with a padlock icon

Keeping information private

If you need to sign up for something and provide personal information, make sure the company is trustworthy by using brands you know or researching for information about the company before you buy.

Backing up

Always save a copy of your work as a backup on a CD, DVD or an external device such as a hard drive or memory stick. This will ensure that if anything does go wrong, you've still got the files you need.

A computer with a few ways to back up files including CD, DVD, USB and hard drive
A backpack big enough to hold a laptop with a zipper

Physical security

Think of doing the following:

  • put a distinguishing mark on your computer, perhaps on its case, with a marker pen
  • make a note of any serial numbers
  • don't leave packaging from new computers outside for others to see
  • disguise your laptop when you are out and about by carrying it in a plain bag.

Reducing the risk

Which of the following will reduce the risk of being affected by online crime?

Install updates for all software

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Keep your personal information safe

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Opening and responding to 'spam' emails

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A couple look at some photos on their laptop while enjoying a cup of tea


Well done, you've come to the end of the Computer and email security activity.

You've learnt about the possible risks to you and your computer, how to avoid these risks and where to go for advice.

In the next activity, Use of personal data on the internet, we'll take a look at what companies do with the information we share with them online.