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Using Facebook and Twitter Safely - Both from an Internet Security perspective (account hijacking; phishing; malware), but also personal security.

Posted on May 14, 2011
Careful Social Networking
 
Social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are revolutionizing the way people interact. By giving people an easy interface through which they can share the events of their lives, these websites make it possible for friends separated by thousands of miles to feel as if they are neighbors. They also make it easier to get to know co-workers, distant relatives, and other people who you might be acquainted with, but don't get to speak with about personal matters as often as you'd like.
 
But while these social networking sites have created incredible new portals for social interaction, they've also created some new security concerns for those who use them. The Internet is a very open place, and putting personal information on the Internet creates new risks. The risk of having your account become compromised is constant, as is the risk that placing personal information on the Internet could cause problems for personal security.
 
This doesn't mean that you should stop using Facebook or Twitter, however. As with anything, there are ways to minimize the risks.
 
Internet Security Risks
 
Both Facebook and Twitter allow users to place a great deal of information on the Internet. The accounts which users make on these websites also include additional private data and, just as importantly, they serve as a public face for the user. If an account is compromised the personal information in it could easily be stolen. The person who has taken control of the account could also use it to write offensive messages to friends of the user and generally defame them.
 
The entry point of both Facebook and Twitter is the login page, which requires a username and password. This means that password security is extremely important. The single best action a user of Facebook or Twitter can take to improve security is by randomizing a password. This means changing the password from something easy to remember, like a favorite name or date, and changing it to random numbers and letters. This may be harder to remember, but it offers far better security. A randomized password is impossible to guess and provides a high level of protection against brute-force attacks.
 
Besides creating a strong password, it is also important for users of Facebook and Twitter to keep their own computer secure. Running a good antivirus program is an absolute must. The reason for this is that a virus might contain some way for another person to record your keystrokes. If such a virus was installed, it would be possible for even the best password to be compromised. Also, users of Facebook and Twitter should try not to use their accounts on public wireless. It is possible that someone could intercept the data being transmitted across the unsecured wireless connection and therefore intercept the password. 
 
Personal Security Risks
 
Facebook and Twitter are both double edged swords. They encourage the user to share as much information as possible. That, after all, is the entire point, joining a social networking website and then sharing nothing doesn't help the user keep in touch with friends, or meet new ones. However, sharing more data makes it easier for the user's personal security to be harmed. Some Twitter users go so far as to update what they're doing every hour. This is great for networking with friends, but it also makes it very easy for someone who wishes the user harm to locate them. 
 
The best way to network with friends while keeping personal security intact is to keep a high standard as to what it takes to be a friend and to make sure that most private information is set so as not to be visible to those who are not friends. On Twitter, this means keeping a small group of followers. Keeping most private information restricted to those who are already trusted minimizes personal security risks a great deal. Users can further minimize personal security risks by keeping some information off the Internet entirely. For example, do your Facebook friends really need to know your cell phone number? Do they need to know the address where you work or live?
 
There is no magic in personal security, and all users of Facebook and Twitter will need to find a compromise. While restricting information to friends is a good idea, some users have so many friends that this hardly has a benefit. Each user will ultimately need to decide for themselves if the risks are worth taking. Posting hourly updates on Twitter will make it much easier for someone to stalk the user. Is the possibility of that occurring worth the benefits of sharing information with those close to you? This is a question that you, the user, can only answer for yourself. 
 


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