Socially Safe

by Geek Squad Agent on ‎05-28-2010 03:22 PM - last edited on ‎07-14-2016 11:45 AM by Geek Squad Agent (7,285 Views)

Social networking websites are one of the fastest growing website genres on the internet. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.


Connect, chat, and let people know what you are doing with just a click of the mouse or punch of the cell phone button. This is “the thing” to do nowadays, the way we keep in touch. With this easy of communication comes the possibility of exploitation. Today we are going to talk about the possible safety hazards of letting your guard down when socially networking via the internet.


There are a couple of set-in-stone ground rules that everyone needs to know about social networking websites. Let me share with you the same information I tell most of my clients:


  • Social networking websites themselves are generally safe; The content people put on them, however, may not be. It is the human element you need to worry about.
  • Always remember that any content you post on the internet will be there forever, for anyone to read, store, and republish.
  • Just because the screen says your friend John has sent you information doesn’t mean John is actually the person who did.
  • If it doesn’t “seem right” it probably is not right.
  • Things free or too good to be true, are. Just like in the “real world.”


Now that we are armed with those rules, let us run through a few possible scenarios. For instance, you hop onto a popular networking site to update your status and you see you have a message from your friend. We are talking about someone you know but does not frequently message you. You open the message and there is a link to what is described as a ‘cool video’ or some super-duper product that you should “check out.” The link doesn’t work, or for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to work. Or perhaps it is such as stupid thing you are wondering why your friend was even wasting your time. “No biggie” you may think. A week later, however, you find that you are getting popup ads left and right and your computer is slowing down.


What happened? Well your friend probably had a virus or spyware infection that spreads itself via sending messages to everyone who his is ‘friend,’ telling them to click on the link. When the link is clicked the spyware is installed. (Please remember that antivirus and antispyware programs are not always 100% effective) The spyware has been watching what you are typing, trying to steal credit card numbers, or otherwise is up to no good. Bam, you’ve been socially hacked.


Another scenario popping up lately involves micro-blogging websites. One of the most popular is Twitter. (Micro-blogging is posting status updates or information in only one to two sentences). There are several excellent micro-blogger humans out there reporting everything from celebrity updates, news hot off the press, and even your latest television show character developments.


However, there are also those micro-blogging accounts where it seems that some “person” is following the status updates of 5,000 people yet only 10 or 20 people are following them. This seems odd…who has the time to follow 5,000 people yet is not popular enough to warrant anybody ‘following’ what they are doing? Yet this random person just ‘followed’ or ‘added’ you to the list of people they listen in on? Weird! So what in the world is going on?


Well, it is completely feasible that this person is waiting for you, and the 5,000 other people, to post something that could be personally identifying. Maybe you don’t post revealing information all at once. Perhaps without realizing it you do it over the course of months. Like pieces of a puzzle to be assembled into a greater picture at a later time. Maybe you uploaded a photo revealing your address or house number in the background of your family picnic? Did you post something with your name on it, or tied to your name like the picture of the new car you bought? Did you just update your status about the burger joint on the corner of Main St and how you are eating there?


Believe it or not just with that simple information above a person can cause you a big headache. For example: With that house number, nearby the burger joint address, the make/model of your car or license plate number in a picture (and personal information tied to this plate number), or anything else you posted, someone could do something as simple as fill out a credit card application in your name. With the free credit card application they stole out of your mailbox. Or perhaps they could use this information to impersonate you in other ways. Ick, who the heck needs that sort of trouble!


That whole scenario seems like a lot of trouble for someone to go through, but it really is not that hard. There are freely available programs on the internet that can scour social networking websites for certain keywords multiple times per hour. When they hit upon this keyword, the program marks that post for future review by human eyes. That person who was following you now has all the information they need from your three months of blogging posts to paint an excellent picture of you. They could possibly step into your shoes if they wanted to.


So what can you do to protect yourself? Remember the set-in-stone rules I mentioned above. What appears to be, may not be true. Ask your friend you do not speak to often if they really sent you a funny video about a cat climbing the Christmas Tree before you open the message and follow the link.


  • Do not post anything on the internet you wouldn’t want someone to see no matter how innocuous it seems to be. Personally identifying information such as license plate numbers, house numbers or other addresses, specific names, how you went to Johnny’s High school and still live in the same town…things like that. Remember that this information is stored somewhere, likely in multiple places, for almost all eternity. Information can be used like pieces in a puzzle to paint a bigger picture of you.


  • Do not accept “friend requests” from people you do not know. Do not allow people to “follow” you if you do not know who they are. If you are unsure as to the authenticity of the person on the other end, ask them a piece or two of personal information that only the true person would know. Watch your children and make sure when they are on these social sites that they adhere to your rules and guidelines.


  • Trust your gut feeling. When a scenario seems odd it could mean someone is up to no good. In addition, remember when you cannot see the person on the other end of the internet connection you have no proof they are who they say they are.


I truly hope this information helps steer you towards trouble-free social waters. The internet is certainly an awesome way to connect and stay in touch at the speed of light. We need not be afraid of the web, but we do need to respect the power it can have over us if used incorrectly.


Now I think I will go post on Twitter that I have finished writing this blog…

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