Staying safe on social media

As of 2016, 78 percent of the U.S. population has an online social media profile, according to Statista. Compare this with a mere 24 percent of the population, only eight years ago. Globally, an estimated 1.96 billion of the Earth’s population have an online presence. During the holiday season, social media plays a major role in helping us stay connected and share with family and friends. But it is important to be careful, as the social media environment may expose us to risks, such as personal identity theft, social engineering scams, reputational loss, and even “real-life” threats.

To avoid social media pitfalls that can have personally damaging effects, follow these basic safety guidelines:

  • Be vigilant of social engineering. According to Ouch!, “social engineering is a type of psychological attack where an attacker misleads you into doing something they want you to do.” From fake profiles to imposters posing as acquaintances, the online world is rife with hackers trying to convince you to hand over your personal information. The consequences could range from identify theft to reputational and personal loss, depending on the intent of the attack. Only add contacts to your network that you know and trust and can confirm have sent you requests. Be careful what you share publicly, as social engineers will attempt to use the information they glean from your social media presence against you.
  • Review and update your privacy settings regularly. Social media networks often make changes to their privacy policies and features, which may impact your privacy settings. The stronger your privacy settings, the less access hackers will have to your personal information.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Links to free downloads, quizzes, games, or even intriguing articles may be phishing scams. Ensure you have a good antivirus or anti-malware program installed, with pop-up blockers and website reputation scanning, to help block bad URLs. But also be savvy about which links you choose to open and never enter your personal information on unknown sites.
  • Keep your posts private, positive and professional. Consider your privacy settings when sharing photos and posts that reveal your location or other personal information. Imagine your comfort level if the content you shared was posted to a street-side billboard or online. Also, whether posting to your private network or publicly, try to keep your posts positive. However, if a post is conveying more serious content, make sure to remain professional. What you share in a rash moment may not only be seen by your social network, but by employers, potential networking contacts, as well as unknown or nefarious individuals. Maintain your reputation and those of your family, friends and workplace by posting thoughtfully.
  • Keep your social media accounts secure. If your social medial site offers two-factor authentication (2FA), be sure to enable it on your account. 2FA adds an additional layer of security by requiring you to enter another security measure, such as an emailed or texted code to log in to your account. This security feature helps block hackers from your account, even if they obtain your password. But always, as a first line of defense, ensure that you use strong and unique passwords on all your accounts.

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