03/12/2013 08:39 GMT | Updated 01/02/2014 05:59 GMT

It's the Most Wonderful Dangerous Time of the Year

The moment we connect to the Internet we become a potential target for cybercriminals. Just as an unprotected home offers easy pickings for burglars, so an unprotected computer, tablet or smartphone is an open invitation to cybercriminals.

We're particularly vulnerable at Christmas. Many of us now routinely shop online, because it's quick and convenient. But at Christmas the volume of online transactions goes through the roof. Last year, on 'Cyber Monday' alone (the busiest day for online retail shopping) there were 112 million visits to retail web site.

So when we log on to purchase gifts, we are vulnerable to a number of cyber-threats. Malicious programs or malware may record the keys we press, take a picture of our screen when we visit a banking website or download additional malware to our computer. But they all have one thing in common: they give cybercriminals access to our digital lives.

Cybercriminals get their information from everywhere; they trawl social networks, public forums and web sites for personal data that they can use to profile us. Their strategy of 'steal everything' means that any seemingly innocuous snippet of information that we post could be useful to them.

And it's not just to launch random, speculative attacks that focus on accessing our personal bank accounts and stealing our money. When we over-share online, or click on links in random messages, or double-click on attachments in unsolicited e-mails, we don't just put ourselves at risk - we run the risk of becoming a gateway into the company we work for. Today's malware is often highly sophisticated, but the starting-point for many of today's targeted attacks is tricking individuals into doing something that undermines corporate security.

Don't let cybercriminals spoil your Christmas, follow these simple guidelines and stay safe online:

1. Install Internet security software and keep it updated.

2. Keep Windows and other applications up-to-date.

3. Don't respond to email messages if you don't know the sender.

4. Don't click on email attachments if you don't know the sender.

5. Don't click on links in email or IM (instant messaging) messages. Type the address directly into your web browser.

6. Don't give out personal information in response to an email, even if the email looks official.

7. Be cautious about what you share in social networks - if you wouldn't write it in a letter to the local newspaper, don't post it online.

8. Only shop, bank or socialise on secure sites. Make sure the URL starts with 'https://' and check for the padlock symbol in the address bar of your browser.

9. Use a unique, complex password for each web site or service you use. Don't recycle them (e.g 'jackie1', 'jackie2'). Don't make them easy to guess (e.g mum's name, pet's name). Don't tell anyone your passwords.

10. Backup your data regularly to a CD, DVD, or external USB drive.