Avoid Common Cyber Threats On Social Media

In today’s culture, many people have developed the habit of checking their mobile devices far more frequently than what is actually required—every 10 minutes on average, according to a poll conducted for CIBC.  It seems like everyone, no matter the age, has at least one smartphone or tablet within arm’s reach at all times. Technology has allowed us to access information and other resources at the touch of a smart screen, but that access can also open us up to many security vulnerabilities.

Cyber security is a growing concern as people have to adapt to the constant updates in technology, yet most people don’t understand what is required to protect themselves or why it’s in fact important.

Not only are people using social media to have conversations with their friends and family, criminals are using the information shared on these platforms to research their next targets. A lot of the engagement that users have within social media gets saved and can be found easily by other users. Personal information and preferences can be sourced from a social media user’s activity though careful analysis. Depending on how strong a user’s privacy settings are, a criminal could simply search for your name or email address to discover an incredible amount of data including your recent whereabouts, favourite hangout spots and future plans.

The Internet is such a powerful resource that has been shown to make our lives easier and help us with finding useful information. Today, most people are using devices and social media platforms without fully understanding how they could be used against them. Let’s take a look into some common tips to avoid putting your assets and family’s safety from being at risk.

1) Always read through user agreements and set your privacy settings with caution.

Each social media platform and website subscription must specify their terms and conditions before you sign-up. Although there may be a lot of fine print and legal jargon, it’s important to read the agreements before providing your consent — just like any other binding document.

Facebook is the most popular social media networking platform with over 1 billion user accounts used by all ages worldwide. This year, Facebook took drastic measures to improve their user’s experience starting with their security provisions. They announced the details of their update in a recent post on their website titled “Starting the Decade by Giving You More Control Over Your Privacy”.

One of the advances speaks to the mandate of making users aware when they are entering a 3rd party environment. Now, when a user logs onto a 3rd party app from Facebook, they will be notified.

Within Facebook’s Terms of Service, they state the following:

“We don’t sell your personal data to advertisers, and we don’t share information that directly identifies you (such as your name, email address or other contact information) with advertisers unless you give us specific permission.”

Often times, users are in a rush when using social media and will give permission to the advertisers by accident. Based on Facebook’s terms and conditions, it is best to provide the platform with as little information about yourself as possible. Do not post vacation photos or information about your trips until you return home. Do not share any personal information, even within comments on your friend’s profiles or in a “private” chat.

2) Do not share sensitive or personal information online.

Criminals are using technology and complex algorithms to decode passwords. It’s important to update your passwords regularly, but you should also be cautious when providing personal details to the public. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is data that can trace an individual’s identity. Many of us use a combination of PII to create memorable passwords, so it is important to keep details like your middle name or your mother’s maiden name as discrete as possible.

Personally Identification Information Types include:

Your names, personal ID numbers (driver’s license, social security number, passport number, patient ID number, credit card accounts), addresses, biometrics, vehicle numbers, phone numbers and technology asset information (IP addresses)

3) Avoid making purchases directly from a social media advertisement.

Aside from the ability to interact with friends and relatives digitally, Facebook as well as Instagram allows anyone to sell products and services online with powerful marketing and branding applications. Unfortunately, Facebook does not have the ability to regulate the advertisers conduct after users leave the platform. Once a user leaves the Facebook environment, after interacting with an advertiser’s content, they are directed to an unregulated website that is typically not secure, followed by an indefinite streak of retargeted ads for those same products.

In the event of a scam, Facebook cannot get your money back. If enough users file a formal complaint against a business’s advertisement for being untrustworthy, Facebook will take action to suspend the business from advertising until they have proven compliance, but it’s up-to Facebook’s discretion.

If you see something that you would like to buy through an advertisement, it’s best to go to the vendor’s secure website directly. Secure websites with SSL Certificates have “https” at the beginning of the URL and are deemed to be safe; all of your data is passed from your internet browser to the website’s server while keeping your information protected. Remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it likely is.

4) Do not take online quizzes that ask for personal information.

Although it can be tempting to take the latest quiz to figure out what your future children may look like or to determine which celebrity you resemble most, the information shared can be used against you. In 2018, about 50 million Facebook users were affected by a security breach after hackers gained access through third-party quizzes that were heavily promoted on the platform.  Some quizzes asked a series of multiple-choice questions while others simply requested access to your photos.

Since 2010, Facebook was transparent with the public that they were using facial recognition technology, but it wasn’t until 2019 that a new internet fad, “The 10 Year Challenge”, caused a major concern for the public of what could be done with their photos. “The 10 Year Challenge” reveled the progression of individuals’ ages as people placed a current photo of themselves next to one from a decade earlier.

“My hope is that people will become concerned about this vast face recognition database that Facebook has amassed and push back on Facebook, turn off face recognition in our Facebook profiles, and push for strict privacy laws at the state and federal levels.” — Jennifer Lynch, The New York Times

5) Use caution when accepting follower and friend requests.

Dating applications are not the only place where people generate fake profiles; they can be found everywhere, especially on social media. Fake profiles have been created by criminals for various purposes like child luring, catfishing or to simply discover private information about others by investigating them intensely for their personal gain. Creating a fake profile is too easy and imposters are getting away with scamming innocent people to comply with their requests for cash to be sent electronically.

Consumer Alert: Imposters on Social Media Trying to Steal Your Money – NBC  

Always be cautious when accepting friend requests by looking at their profile in detail. Try to verify their identity by asking them a question that they would answer with ease or have them contact you immediately from a phoneline without providing them with your number.

A lot of applications take advantage of “push notifications”; unlike “pop-up advertisements” that communicate to the users when they are on a website or using an app, push notifications are more intuitive and prompt users to take action. Always read push notifications in detail before making any selections. Ensure you read requests carefully.

6) Implement a two-step verification on all social media accounts.

A two-step verification, also known as “two-factor authentication”, is a method to grant access to a digital platform only after at least two pieces of evidence are provided. This method of confirming users’ identity is important to safeguard your personal information and prevents others from accessing your social media accounts without your consent. The most common pieces of information used to provide verification are your mobile phone number and email address. After providing your email address and mobile phone number, verification codes are sent to you to grant access. Often times, a series of secret questions can act as verification as well. Two-step verifications are good practice for banking and email accounts as well.

7) Practice updating your passwords regularly.

Not only is it important to update your passwords often and regularly, it’s vital to create strong ones that won’t get compromised. The best practice for creating strong passwords entails using a variety of upper case and lower case, symbols, numbers and characters that can’t be easily guessed.

If you have an overwhelming amount of accounts and passwords, there are many password managers available to help you create and remember them.

8) Keep on-top of your online identity: “Google yourself”.

You should “Google yourself” to search for your current online identity and remove any information from your social media that you do not want strangers to see. Social Media does not only contain information about yourself, it also stores posts that other publish about you. It is a good practice to periodically search for yourself to identify any information you may not want online.

Although it’s important to use caution when using social media and the internet, it’s also important not to fear it. Social media is a tool; depending on how it is used, it can also be helpful for positive change. Various police departments have used social media as a tool to investigate criminal behaviour, discover evidence to use towards convictions and even find missing persons. Ensure that you practice safe use protect yourself and your family from potential data breaches.

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