Web users are being encouraged to use technology and mobile phones more responsibly to ensure they stay safe online, in a bid to mark this year's Safer Internet Day.

Safer Internet Day, which takes place today (February 8) is an annual event organised by InSafe, in a bid to educate web users on online security issues.

This year's topic covers 'virtual lives', in particular online gaming and social networking and features the slogan:  'It's more than a game, it's your life'.

According to Christian Brindley, senior principal systems engineer at security vendor Symantec, the growth in social gaming has created a boom in the use of virtual identities online.

"With users' accounts often linked to their social networking sites, the potential for cybercriminals to glean personal information for illegal activity is higher than ever," he said.

"Combined with the fact that most individuals still rely on simple username plus password logins, which can easily be hacked, social networks and gaming sites are prime territories for fraudsters to find the three pieces of information about you they need to begin stealing your identity."

Simon Ellson, Norton's consumer security expert, believes the increase of cybercrime-related news stories over the past year or so has helped to highlight the importance of being ultra-careful when it comes to online activities

"However, being a victim of cybercrime doesn't usually have much resonance unless you've experienced the bad side of it yourself. Safer Internet Day really helps put the situation into context to promote safer and more responsible use of the internet to protect our virtual lives," he said.

"As new technologies become available, cybercriminals are continuing to use sophisticated tricks to trip people up, so it's important to remain vigilant online and think twice before departing with personal information."

Exercise caution online

Brindley advised web users to act cautiously when posting anything online and inputting passwords.

"Personal information such as full date of birth, home address or telephone numbers should never be publicly displayed. Where possible, use sites that offer two-factor authentication, which works by requiring not just a username and password but also a unique, one-time six-digit security code, generated by a token or free mobile phone application," he said.

"This creates a much stronger login and helps to combat identify theft. In addition, secure networks and home computer security software should always be used to minimise the risk of hacking and provide warnings when users may be at risk."

Tony Anscombe, AVG Ambassador of Free, argued that teaching and educating both children and adults on the dangers of internet security has never been more important.

"Children are exposed to technology at an increasingly early age. A recent study by AVG, Digital Skills, revealed that children are more advanced in their technical skills than life skills, like riding a bike," said Anscombe.

"The shift in childhood behaviour is something that parents need to not only be aware of, but they should also take active responsibility to ensure their children's safely is not compromised."

Anscombe advised parents to ensure all computers and mobiles are protected with up-to-date software. He added safety should be made a priority, not an afterthought.

"Finally, it is important that parents understand the role they play in keeping their children safe by ensuring that they do not post information regarding their children in the public domain that may be used to identify their children or cause them embarrassment later in life," he said.

See also: TalkTalk to offer internet safety masterclasses