Social media is a great way to have some LOLZ with friends, and a great way to advertise your business, recruit talent, and grow your business. It’s incredibly diverse and we invest a lot of our lives into social media.
Where there are opportunities in a digital environment, someone will find a way to exploit it – and I’m not talking about Facebook’s dicey policies. I’m talking about hackers who steal information from social media accounts, harvest your data, and generally make your day a lot less pleasant.
Here are five ways that social media can ruin your online security, with solutions for how you can avoid the pitfalls.
1. Identity theft
An identity thief isn’t just the title of a mildly amusing comedy with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, it is a name given to real criminals who gather personal information from social media. Even with your account set to the highest security settings you can still have information stolen from your account.
That doesn’t mean you have to delete your Twitter and run screaming for the hills, it means you need to take some precautions:
- Use a strong password. Don’t use something someone could guess, like your mom’s maiden name (she’s on social media too!), or your own birthday. Use a complex series of letters using both upper and lower case, numbers, and symbols. If you’re lazy, use a longer phrase or whole sentence.
- What you post can be stolen, even in ‘private’ messaging. Don’t share anything too important over any social media site. Basically, if you wouldn’t write it on a card and pass it around in a classroom, you may want to find another way to communicate the message.
- Hide your location. Most websites ask for a general city/state, and while it can be soooo enticing to write them in there, you’re better off not doing so. Every piece of information is valuable.
2. Social media profile and computer hacks
Using your social media account to inject malicious code, hackers can steal your identifying information, infect your computer with a virus, screw with your banking, and that’s just the major stuff.
One of the easiest ways to do this is with a link shortener. The hacker creates their malicious link, puts it into a link shortener so it looks okay, and then creates one of those headline articles that everyone loves to click on: “You won’t BELIEVE what this girl does alone at home! OMG!!”
How you can avoid this is by:
- Hovering over the link with your pointer. This should display the full link URL in the lower left hand of your browser window. If you know the website, click it. If you don’t know the website, are you curious enough to ruin your computer and social media security over it? I hope not.
- Use a link scanner like URLVoid. It will check the link for you to see if the website associated with the URL is safe.
- Expand shortened links, like those you find with Ow.ly, Goo.gl, and Buffer. Where Does This Link Go can help you by expanding your shortened link so you can see if it leads to a safe website you know.
Don’t click blind if you’re unsure of where you’ll end up – you could end up right in the middle of a malicious website that’ll fill you up with viruses and malware.
3. Thinking you’re safe when you’re not
Not knowing when to be cautious is the biggest problem for many social media users. So many people assume that they’re safe because they’re on their own personal computer, and nothing bad could happen. I mean, what do you have that anyone would want to take?
Well, not only are you putting yourself at risk with this attitude, but those you’re connected to as well. No matter whether it’s a public post on a wall, or a ‘private’ message between friends, never post:
- Your travel plans – who knows who might be there waiting for you.
- Bank account details – even in private message.
- Your full address.
- Your daily schedule – someone may decide to ‘meet up’ with you without an invite.
- The birthdates, workplaces, schools, or real time locations of anyone.
This will help you protect yourself, and those in your networks. Never before in human history have people been so willing to tell complete strangers information that was once solemnly private.
The last part of this is assuming you’re safe when using public WiFi. Many of these are secured using the worst WiFi encryption protocols, WEP being completely insecure and common, and they leave you highly vulnerable. Not only that but there are also fake WiFi attacks which are hackers giving you a ‘free’ connection so that you give them free information.
For both of these you can use a VPN to protect yourself. This app will encrypt all of your Internet traffic so that hackers can’t steal your information when you connect to public WiFi. For a cheap option, read this Private Internet Access Review to learn about an affordable VPN provider that can protect you every time you connect to public WiFi.
4. Giving stalkers a roadmap to where you are
As soon as you hit ‘Post’ on any social media platform, that information is out there forever. Sure, you can delete it …but what if I hit Control+Shift+4 on my Mac before you deleted it? I’d have a screenshot that would last me forever, and your deletion wouldn’t matter at all.
No matter what you do with your security and privacy settings, you can still have your shared information leaked by:
- Co workers
- Brands you follow/Like
- Apps you download
- Websites you subscribe to
The Internet wasn’t once nicknamed the ‘Web’ for nothing; Everything connects. When one of those connections gives away personal information that lets a stalker find you realize that you could have prevented it by not giving that information up in the first place!
Another thing you need to do is turn off your location tracking on all apps. Find the “Do Not Track” option in the app settings and make sure it’s off. Hackers can use the information these apps store to figure out your daily routine and pay you an unwanted visit.
5. Letting the world know when your house is ready to be robbed
Connecting to the point above, if you share a post like “Going shopping for the day in Far Off City” you’re giving every hacker, or anyone who just comes across this social media post, a big signal that your house is going to be empty. It takes 8 – 12 minutes to get in and out of someone’s home for the average burglar. Still think you need to tweet that you’re going out to dinner for a few hours? Maybe you should save the food selfie for when you’re back home as well.
Other important points to consider:
- Do not post when you’ll leave, or for how long you’ll go, before you go. Tell your friends about it when you get back home, or to their face in person.
- If you have to share photos while you’re out, make sure to narrow the selection of people who see it – keep it to family and close friends only. The guy you friended after meeting at the bar last Saturday doesn’t need to see this.
- If possible, just stay offline. Take time away from the online world. This will be smart so that you can finally relax, and so that your change of IP address doesn’t alert hackers to the fact you’re away from home.
It may feel like nothing you do on social media could ever hurt you, but this is not the case. There’s a direct connection to your online world and your real world – social media and the ‘post everything NOW’ nature of the world is only bringing those two closer together.
At the very least I want you to leave reading this article with a sense that you’re the first step in your own protection online. What you choose to share, and which apps and security tools you use, is what is going to make the difference in your safety.
About the author:
Marcus is the online security writer for the Best VPN Provider’s weekly Internet Security Blog. You will find him writing a new article there every Wednesday. You can also follow the Best VPNs Twitter account for regular security news whenever you have a spare minute.