Most of us spend a large portion of our days (5 or 10 minutes at a time) using social media. We post photos, share details about ourselves and our whereabouts, take seemingly harmless quizzes, and make connections with people we only know vaguely. And, while every move we make in Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even LinkedIn may seem harmless enough, each move also maximizes the opportunities for hackers and identity thieves to do real damage.
Here’s how to protect yourself on your social media platforms:
Create good passwords and actually use them.
Just as we’ve recommended in other articles, create passwords using a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t spell out words, don’t repeat old passwords, and don’t use passwords you use on other sites. Set up security questions as well to ensure no one can access your account or change your password but you. AND, when you have the opportunity to stay logged in or “remember my password,” don’t. Not selecting this option will result in a two-factor authentication (like having a text message sent to your phone with a code); this may seem annoying, but the few seconds it takes to verify your credentials may save you hours of pain and drama.
Don’t take quizzes.
Remember that app that let you upload a photo and see what you looked like as an older person? That one turned out to be created by Russian hackers to build a facial recognition database! While not all quizzes are that nefarious, they do collect information like your first car, favorite sports team, best friend…all of which can be used to cache data about you (which ultimately can be used to guess passwords).
Review your “friends” list.
We’ve all accepted friend requests from people we don’t really know well. Maybe they’re connected to someone we trust, maybe they work at a company we’re applying to. Still, it’s good practice to review your friend list periodically and remove anyone you’re not sure about; you can also use those reviews to update who you want to see what. Some posts/photos may be perfect for public consumption, but others should be limited to just close friends.
Review your privacy settings monthly.
As patches go out monthly, it’s a good idea to review your privacy agreement and settings for revisions. Facebook (and third-party providers) may opt you in to sharing things you might not agree with; review and opt out as necessary. Also, make sure that others can’t tag you in photos without your permission.
Update your profile.
Anyone who needs to know your birthday already knows it! Never post contact information or personal information like your birthday.
Don’t announce your absence or track your location.
It’s always nice to brag a bit on Instagram when you’re on an amazing vacation (and your co-workers aren’t!), but letting strangers know when your house will be empty is not smart. Geotagging also let’s local businesses know where you are, increasing the likelihood that you will be spammed with ads or requests. You can always post those gorgeous waterfall photos in Oregon when you get home!
Staying connected is more important than ever, and social media helps us do that. But as hacking and manipulative marketing gets more sophisticated, using these few tips will help you stay social without making yourself vulnerable to attack.