Social Nets Put Your Privacy at Risk

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By Mike Kronenberg

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Attention Facebook and Twitter users: You’re still at risk. Last year, our survey found that lots of people using social networking sites were taking the risk of financial loss, identity theft, and malware infection. Have things gotten any better? Well, the answer is yes but, unfortunately, not better enough — and potentially a lot worse for some of you.

The results of our 2010 survey reveals that more of you are adhering to some safe behaviors — like blocking profiles from being visible through public search engines. That’s a good thing, but the downside is over 25 percent of you haven’t changed your default privacy settings. And more that three quarters of survey respondents haven’t placed any restrictions on who can see their recent activity.

I worry about this because you can’t escape the fact that rogue operators are always trying to extract details about you. They want access to anything that can help them dig into your private life. They can break into Web mail accounts, get your credit card number, steal your identity, or even attack you through cyber-stalking.

And they’ll do anything to get the info, from attacking you with malware to tricking you into revealing passwords.

With that, and our survey in mind, on the following page I’ve posted a few suggestions you can follow to protect yourself.

  • Privacy Rules: Review your profiles on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and any other social or business networking site you use. Pay attention to the way the profile lets you protect your sensitive personal details by, say, restricting access to only family members or colleagues. A good rule is to examine and update your profile’s privacy settings so you’re exposing as little information as possible, while still able to do what you want.
  • Take Advantage: Look over and take advantage of any enhanced security and privacy options offered by social networking sites, such as blocking messages from people you don’t know.
  • Knock Knock: People banging at your social networking door could be carrying a grab bag of malware to get access to your address book, or worse, your passwords. Be careful of e-mail and friend requests from people you don’t know; stay cautious even if the name is familiar and limit their access. Clicking on links can be risky too, because they can lead to nefarious sites.  (see Security Barricades below).
  • Potent Passwords: Here’s the drill for everyone at Webroot — we use strong passwords, change them often, and never, ever use the same password on more than one site. Want to test the relative strength of the passwords you use? Check out the Password Meter, which will grade how well you pick hard-to-guess passwords. Need a convenient place to store all those hard-to-guess passwords? Give LastPass a trial run.
  • Security Barricades: It’s essential you have software to protect you from viruses, spyware, and malware. You might start by checking your PC with a free scan to see if there are any hidden viruses lurking. As the Chief Technology Officer, I’m proud to say you can protect your PC with our Webroot Internet Security Essentials, which includes antivirus, antispyware, and firewall technologies.
  • Get the Latest: Antivirus and anti-spyware software have to be regularly updated with the latest malware definitions; otherwise, you’re not fully protected. But that’s not enough: You need to update every critical application, including your operating system, Internet browsers, and other programs that are vulnerable to attacks. For instance, Adobe’s Flash Player and Acrobat Reader, as well as Sun’s Java all recommend updating regularly. One word of caution: always update directly from the application Internet site; links in e-mail or from a social networking message might offer fake updates
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  1. [...] Some of our recent in-class discussions have been on the blurred line social media has created our between professional and social lives. Being tuned in to social media 24/7 is a requirement for some professionals (like PR pros dealing with a crisis). Being “on display” affects more than just those who use the tool as a job. Some people belive that social media use puts people at risk. [...]