Facebook is only just over a decade old, but it has already captured the attention of users the world over. According to company statistics, Facebook saw an average of 968 million daily, active users as of June 2015. More than 8 million of these are daily, active mobile users. Americans aren't alone in their social media obsession – more than 80 percent of users were located outside of the U.S. and Canada.
However, as social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram become a bigger part of users' daily lives, they must be increasingly careful about their online privacy. While most platforms have granular privacy settings, not all users are fully aware of how to correctly operate these. Compounding the issue is that social media is becoming a magnet for cyber and real-world criminal activity. For these reasons, it's imperative that users understand how to best protect themselves online.
Social media attracts criminals
Daily Finance noted that there are several ways criminals use social media to their advantage, including to hack user accounts using brute force attacks. These can then be used to spread malware to other users, or sold on underground markets.
Criminals have also been known to clone user accounts using available, unprotected images and information. This enables them to send friend requests, expanding the scope of their malicious activities.
"Exploiting a person's account and posturing as that person is just another clever mechanism to use to extract information," noted Webroot Threat Blog author Grayson Milbourne.
Overall, social media offers numerous possibilities for hackers, including strategies for phishing, cloning, data mining and fraud.
So what can users do to help better protect themselves and the information they share with friends?
Trend Micro noted in a blog post that one critical step is to investigate available privacy settings.
"The first thing you'll need to do is to go by the rule of thumb and set your privacy to the highest level to make it harder for attackers to target you," Trend Micro stated.
A Trend Micro white paper, "How to Protect Your Privacy on Social Media," noted that privacy policies can be especially telling, and can help users understand just how accessible their information is. Privacy policies typically outline what data the platform collects, how these details are gathered, how long this information is stored as well as the built-in security the website offers. Because social media entities can change these policies at will, it's important to regularly check for any adjustments.
Think before you share
It's also important to thoroughly consider the impact a social media post might have before sharing. This extends to a user's friends and family, as well as any hackers that might be looking to cash in on a person's carelessness.
"Oversharing online might do damage to your reputation," Trend Micro stated in the white paper. "For example, your family or employers might spot carelessly posted photos of yourself in compromising situations. Your details can also be used for identity theft, if cybercriminals utilize them to impersonate you."
In the past, criminals have also used this information for real-world crimes. For instance, if a user posts on social media that they'll be out of town for a few days, a burglar might use this information to their advantage and break into the person's hose while they are away. One Trend Micro survey found that only 38 percent of users understand how to limit their online postings. This illustrates that many are sharing more data than they should, or intended to. For these, and other reasons, it's critical to think before you share.
Trend Micro also pointed out that there are a number of third-party apps connected with social media that could pose a threat to privacy. These include horoscope or quiz apps that ask for permission to access profile information or post for the user on social media. Oftentimes, these requests enable the app to customize a user's experience. However, it's critical to review what information the app will have access to before granting permission.
"If you're concerned about the amount of information an app is asking for, it may be best not to install it at all," Trend Micro recommended.
Tagging widens the scope
A common practice, particularly on Facebook, is for individuals to tag other users in photos or posts. However, this can increase the amount of people with access to the post or image. This threat is increased when location tagging comes into play.
"Your contacts will be able to see if you're tagged in a post or photo, even if they aren't connected to the original source," the white paper pointed out. "Your location can also be revealed to contacts if a friend decides to tag where you are, allowing anyone to physically follow you."
Some platforms, including Facebook, enable users to configure their settings to that tags have to be approved before they can be applied. It's important to check into these capabilities and keep track of tags.
While social media can be a fun and entertaining way to maintain connections and relationships, it can also create vulnerabilities when it comes to privacy. By checking privacy settings and fully considering the impact of online activity, users can better protect themselves and their sensitive, personal information.
Enhance your online security even further with Trend Micro's Internet Security 10. This helpful software is specifically designed to help guard users' privacy on top social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Contact Trend Micro today for more information.