The Internet is a wonderful invention, a place to meet potential friends, to learn whatever you want and to embark on adventures you'd never anticipated. But just like anything in life, the good comes with the bad, and there are many dark alleyways and shady characters that Internet users should be weary of.

A lot of people are simply not aware of the scale of the thievery, skulduggery and maliciousness that occurs every day on the Internet, so here are a few facts to get us in the right frame of mind :

Online Safety Tips

• Symantec reported around 5 and a half billion malicious attacks in 2011, which was a staggering 81% increase on the previous year!

• Roughly 12 million Americans had their identities stolen or interfered with in 2011.

• 2011 saw some of the largest data thefts ever seen, including the hack of the Play Station network where the personal information (and in some cases the credit card details) of tens of millions of users were stolen.

The problem of online security is important to us all, and is actually far more widespread an occurrence then a lot of people may think. So, here are my 5 golden rules of online safety and security.

5 Best Online Safety Tips

Get the Basics Right

Making sure that you have an up to date version of your operating system, browser and antivirus and firewall software is a must. It is something that a surprising amount of people fail to do. These days you can alter the settings on a lot of software so they update automatically, but you may have to do some things manually.

Anyone still using Internet Explorer 6 should be slapped. Hard.

Passwords are like Keys, So Make Sure You've a Strong Set

how to choose strong password
There are a number of things you can do to make your passwords as strong as possible. The first is to try and have a different password for all of your accounts and logins, and use a combination of upper and lower case, numbers and letters.

• An example of a weak password = ilovekitties

• An example of a strong password = 1L0vek1TT1e$

Be a Little More Suspicious and a Little More Guarded

Too many people act like children in the proverbial candy shop when they are online, clicking in any link they see, adding anyone that asks and giving away personal information at the drop of a hat. The Internet does not function like a browsing through a catalogue or making directory enquiries using a phonebook.

An important aspect of online security is adopting an attitude of suspecting everyone and anyone, especially with regards to opening emails and clicking on links. MacAfee SiteAdvisor is a great tool to show you when you are venturing off the beaten track and into potentially dangerous online territory.

Keep Your Personal Life to Yourself as much as Possible

This applies to everything you do, but especially to social networking sites. Although it might appear that you are surrounded by friends and acquaintances on sites like Facebook, the reality is that you are one node in a network system that is accessed and used by millions of people every day.

Never have your address, phone number or email account listed on these sites and try not to give away too many personal details about where you work or when you are going on holiday.

You wouldn’t walk down the street giving your phone number or address to anyone that asked you for it, so don’t act that way on the internet.

Also Check :

5 Tips for Using Social Media Safely

Top 10 Things You Should Never Put on Facebook

Beware Public Networks and Wi-Fi Hotspots

You should never access documents with sensitive information or your online banking on a public network. The same goes for Wi-Fi hotspots. Just look at the lawsuits brought against Google for sucking up people’s personal information to see how simple getting information from these networks about you can be.

I Hope I have not missed anything important. But feel free to share your tips and views in the Comments section. The Internet holds many wonders it can also be a dangerous and unforgiving place.