Safer Social Networking

I was asked recently for a few tips on how to look after yourself online, particularly with regard to social networking. I know many of the people who read this blog are regular users of Facebook & Twitter, so I wanted to share those tips here. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and I didn’t quite make to the catchy “10 top tips” but hopefully there are a few things here that you may not have previously considered.

# 1 – Familiarise yourself with both the privacy settings and the security policy of any social and professional networking sites you use. If you’re not happy with them, stop using the site.

# 2 – When you create your profile consider each piece of information that you share and whether if it is necessary or even relevant to that site. Do you need to share telephone numbers for example, maybe if your mail or direct messages come direct to your phone that is enough. Think practically don’t complete a form just because it is in front of you.

# 3 – When you share content, chat, mail or comment on other people’s posts or profiles never consider your communication to be personal or private. Even if you have made full use of the privacy settings available to you, you cannot be sure your content won’t be copy/pasted, downloaded or otherwise shared more widely without your knowledge.

# 4 – Most sites offer a means to reset your password should you forget it. This is also one of the most common ways to break into an account. If you are asked to provide answers to “Security questions” consider whether the answers are really secure. Secure means that you are the only person who can answer the question. If the possibility exists to create your own questions, use it. If you are obliged to answer more standard questions such as “First school”or “First pet” remember the answer doesn’t have to be the truth, it only has to be something you can remember.

# 5 – Do not use a single password for multiple different sites, that way if one is compromised you don’t have to worry about the others. Create complex passwords using upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters such as $%&!. Devise a way to differentiate your password for each site you use, for example putting the first and last letters of the web site name at the beginning and end of your complex password. (Tip: the character £ does not feature in some automated tools for brute forcing passwords so it can be a good one to use. To get that character on a non UK keyboard, hold down the Alt key and tap 0163).

# 6 – If you receive a friend request from someone you don’t know or recognise, contact them directly before you make the decision to add them to your circle of trust. Ask how they know you, and check they are legitimate. It’s not only your own privacy you are protecting, it’s also that of all your friends.

# 7 – Consider sorting your friends into groups, in many cases this will allow you to share specific content with specific groups only.

# 8 – Try to minimise the number of third party apps and services that you install or allow to access your account, learn how to remove or disallow them and get rid of any that you no longer use. Don’t forget even on Twitter once you authorise a service to access your account, that permission remains unless you manually remove it and it also persists through password changes.

# 9 – Don’t click links in messages or wall posts, even links sent to you by friends without checking first if the person intended to send it to you. The few moments it takes to check could save you from falling for a phishing scam or worse, infecting your computer. You could also be doing your friend a favour if you are letting them know their account is compromised and sending out links.

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As Solutions Architect for Trend Micro, Rik Ferguson interacts with CIOs from a wide variety of blue chip enterprises, government institutions, law enforcement organisations. Recognised as an industry thought leader and analyst, Rik is regularly quoted by the press on issues surrounding Information Security, Cybercrime and technology futures. With over 15 years experience in the IT Industry with companies such as EDS, McAfee and Xerox Rik’s broad experience enables him to have a clear insight into the challenges and issues facings businesses today.