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Staying safe and minimizing risk while using social media

Do your friends make questionable decisions on social media? Yes, because many of our friends actually help scammers share their message, many because they are not well-informed. But just in case you’re in any doubt about how important it is to proceed with caution on social media, consider these three factors:

  1. The web is a dangerous place: The security company Sucuri scanned about 10 million websites and found 26% of them were compromised (hosting malicious injections or otherwise blacklisted).
  2. People are sharing more personal data than ever: That’s not just a hunch, that was the finding of a seven-year study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University: Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook.
  3. Consumers are not the only victims: Criminals conducting cyber attacks against companies are finding social media a great resource (there are several social media attack scenarios in the recently published Trustwave 2013 Global Security Report).

So here are some strategies for staying safe and minimizing risk while using social media (assuming you’ve decided you can’t live without social networks, which is understandable for many people and companies):

The sanity check strategy

What do you do when you see a link in a friend’s tweet, Facebook or LinkedIn update, Instagram or Snapchat posting? Do you click on it right away or do you think before you click? Hopefully you follow a thought process before you click that includes these questions:

  • How sensible/relevant is this link? If your friends know you’re not interested in Justin Bieber, you should be suspicious of postings about them that seem to come from friends.
  • Do I trust the person who posted it? Some people expand their social networking connections by accepting every friend request they get. That is not a good idea. You should not accept requests to connect from people with whom you have no connection.
  • How likely is this post to be from that person? Hopefully you do know your friends on social media well enough to tell if an update is out of character for them. If you see such a post, question them. Their account might have been hacked.
  • Can I get to the linked content through a more trusted channel? If you see a news report on social media that a famous person has died please check the facts before spreading the story. Phony news stories often contain links that lead you to places you don’t want to go.


The out-of-band strategy

Out-of-band communication – using one channel of communication to verify what is said in a different channel. 

Social media is not the only way to communicate. If you have any doubts about anything you see on social media why not verify it via a different communication channel, like the telephone, or SMS, or email, or even face-to-face.

If you are suspicious about a news story you see breaking on social media, go to a legitimate news website and see it you can confirm it.

The stay informed strategy

If you use social media a lot it makes sense to stay informed about new developments, particularly in the area of scams. Even if you are not keen on social media yourself but work in IT security–or maybe you are your family’s IT security person, riding herd on kids or elderly parents–it is a good idea to keep your finger on the pulse of social media developments.

Adapted from welivesecurity.com