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Internet security solutions to protect you on social media websites

Posted on May 14, 2011
There is no escaping the fact that people share a huge amount of personal information on social media websites and that information is not always secure. Detractors will point out that you would never dream of sharing the details you’ll post on a Facebook profile with a stranger you encounter in person. However, even if you set a profile to be private, there is a big risk that anyone can access that information.
 
When you trust an organization with personal details, whether it is MySpace, Bebo or Twitter, you are placing your faith in their ability to keep that information secure. Unfortunately, these social media websites can be compromised. They are so popular that they have become big targets for criminals and companies eager to sell your details to third parties for marketing purposes. As convergence continues to grow in popularity it means that if one of your accounts is broken into, access may be extended to other accounts. Too many people use the same password for multiple accounts.
 
The risks range from spam to identity theft and for parents of children who are active on social media websites there are bigger concerns to worry about. The problem of Internet grooming has been widely discussed in the media. It is advisable for parents to keep an eye on who their children are talking to online because it is all too easy for people to misrepresent themselves.
 
So what can you do to protect yourself? Well the ultimate protection is not to use social media websites at all. However, by that logic you would never leave your house for fear of crime so let’s look at some sensible precautions you can take to drastically reduce any risks.
 
There is effectively nothing you can do about someone stealing information at source by hacking into a server storing personal details. However the biggest risk to you on social media websites is actually phishing scams and malware.
 
Phishing scams are designed to trick you into handing over your password and personal details about yourself. Typically they take the form of false emails or website fronts which are pretending to be a legitimate website you use. The scammers con you into entering your details into their false website and then use them to access your real account. It is quite common for scammers to use social media websites to send phishing messages to people, and they may even apparently come from someone you know.
 
There are typical patterns to phishing emails and messages and so they are relatively easy to spot. If there is a link to click on or a request for personal details then you should treat the message with suspicion. They may pretend to be from your bank or even take the form of a request for a charitable donation.
 
It is also important to avoid clicking on suspect links because they may prompt the download of some malware onto your computer. If you are not sure of the legitimacy of a message you receive via a social media website then don’t click on the link or respond with personal details.
 
Another precaution which you should take in order to protect yourself on social media websites is to avoid accepting friend requests from people you don’t know. Keep your information private and password protected and do not give that password to anyone. Think carefully about the content you are putting online and consider who will have access to it. You also need to remember that people can use fake profile photos and if you don’t know someone personally there is no guarantee that they are who they say they are.
 
For concerned parents, it is worth explaining the potential risks to your child. You should check their profile page and warn them against talking to people they don’t know, just as you would warn them about talking to strangers in everyday life. It is also important to warn them about posting personal information or photographs which can be viewed publicly.
 
Social media websites are such a big part of our culture now and so many people use them to stay in touch that an outright ban for your children is likely to be met with dismay. It is important to remember that as long as they are sensible about it, the risk is relatively low. Rather than trying to stop them using these websites, just make sure they know the risks and that you keep an eye on what they are doing there from time to time.
 
If you have concerns about specific issues then a good source to check out is Wired Safety (http://www.wiredsafety.org/). They offer lots of helpful advice and tips to keep you safe on social media websites.
 
When it comes to protecting you from phishing scams it is worth considering the use of a phishing filter. Windows Internet Explorer 7 for example has a built in phishing filter which will warn you about suspect websites. It also offers you the chance to submit suspicious sites and find out whether they are safe to use.
 
Anyone online should have antivirus software and a firewall installed and up to date. In addition you should keep your operating system and browser up to date with the most recent patches because these are often designed to plug potential security risks. Beyond that, staying safe is about using common sense. Being cautious about the messages and requests you receive can save you a great deal of trouble.


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