Much like how you wouldn’t share your toothbrush with someone else, the same sentiment should be applied to sensitive information like online passwords, personal identification numbers (PIN), or credit card details. And as there are reportedly more than 2.5 billion active users worldwide on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, now more than ever, it’s important to know how to prevent information or identity theft.
January 28 is International Data Privacy Day, and its purpose is to raise awareness regarding the best ways in which businesses and consumers can protect their personal information online.
One of the pitfalls to social networking
Chances are, over the last decade, you’ve all moved over to storing most of your personal information online. From mobile banking services and online shopping carts, to email services to cloud storage, to GPS and location tracking to social media accounts, each time we download a new app or program onto our devices or sign up for a new account, we are both consciously and unconsciously compromising important personal data.
Social media-based information theft and privacy hacks are on the rise with each new account, like, and post. And since it’s so easy – not to mention free – to access almost all social media platforms, it’s also become easier for breaches and scams to occur. Keep reading for tips on how to stay safe and aware while still enjoying social media.
Tip #1: Don’t ignore all those permission pop-ups, privacy settings and terms of service
You’ve made a new Instagram or Twitter account and you’re ready for the followers, likes and retweets to come pouring in. The only thing getting in your way is the seemingly never-ending stream of pop-up boxes asking for access to your microphone, camera, contacts, location, photo library… the list goes on. Of course, you say yes to all, because you just want to quickly get past all the roadblocks so you can interact with your friends. However, this is one way in which hackers mine information about you in order to gain access to your personal information.
Pay close attention to the terms and conditions whenever you make a new account or download a new app or update. Yes, it’s super long and boring, but look out for a few key words like “access”, “permission” and “share” so you have a better understanding of how that site is using your information. While you may be fine sharing your photo library with Instagram, you may want to consider rejecting permission to access your location.
On every app, there are also privacy options you can set so your information is not available to the app. A quick visit to the privacy settings menu can prevent important information such as your phone number, email, location, and contacts from appearing publicly. With recent security breaches like the one on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, be aware of what may happen when you regularly post pictures, names, and your exact location online without limiting who can see this information.
Tip #2: Step up your password game
Surprisingly – or maybe not so surprisingly – “123456” and “password” have topped the most common password list for 2018. The effort we put into creating a secure password reflects the effort hackers will have to put in in order to steal our personal information. When creating a strong password for your accounts, experts advise against these predictable passwords and aiming for a password that is easy to remember, but difficult to guess. Using a combination of upper and lowercase characters, numbers, and punctuation while avoiding phrases or words in the dictionary are also good ways to ensure the security of your account. Using memorable, crazy phrases work as well, like “BBQChipsAreReallyYummy” or “1HamsterCanDrive”.
Tip #3: Use your gut
If you find yourself questioning a link or wondering where an email or message is coming from, chances are you already know something is amiss. Don’t ignore warning signs (pop-ups, numerous links, “act right now” aggressive call-to-actions, unfamiliar senders, etc.) and be wary of clicking on anything or responding with information.
Look out for spelling and format errors in the content suspicious emails. Scammers may try to fool you into thinking they are trustworthy by making slight changes you may overlook (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org vs. email@example.com). If you are still unsure, contact the company directly by phone.
In many cases, hackers attack and steal from online accounts for monetary gain, or in some cases, simply because they can.
Tip #4: Be aware of less obvious scams on social media
“Your bank account has been compromised”
“Click this link and tag five friends in the comments to gain more followers.”
You’ve likely seen these messages before, and hopefully you’ve ignored them. This practice, also known as “life-jacking” or “life-hacking”, may sound too good to be true and almost always is. Hackers prey on users’ desire to amass a large following on their accounts and drop these traps in order to expand their own network of potential cyber-victims. These links can automatically appear on your news feed, download malware onto your device, or gather financial information during “free trials”.
Regularly changing your passwords, installing anti-virus software, and taking a second look at your privacy settings are small steps you can take now to ensure the security of your social media accounts. Hackers and scammers are smarter than you think though, and they’ll use other various clever methods to trick you out of your information. Feel like you can outsmart them? Take our social media security quiz to test your expertise!