Cybersecurity: Keeping Your Data Safe

Many people derive a great deal of enjoyment from posting their personal photos and private information to Facebook and other social media websites these days. And it’s easy for enthusiastic posters to lose sight of the fact that the Internet is a big place with a few shady characters and a very long memory. But keeping your social media accounts and computers secure has never been more important.

Spear phishing is on the rise! Spear phishers target select groups of people with something in common — such as working at the same company, banking at the same financial institution, attending the same college or ordering merchandise from the same website. The e-mails typically appear to have been sent from organizations or individuals the potential victims would normally get e-mails from, making them even more deceptive. Keep in mind that companies, banks and agencies rarely ask for personal information via e-mail. If there is any doubt, call the organization (but do not use the phone number in the e-mail —that is usually phony as well). Never follow a link to a secure site from an e-mail — always enter the web address yourself — and always make sure you know the contents before downloading a file.

Twitter and Facebook accounts are hacked daily. To protect yours, change your passwords often and use strong passwords with uppercase letters, numbers and special letters, such as !@#. Be careful what you post or tweet. For example, if you tweet a picture of your pet or if your mother is easily identifiable on Facebook, you could be making it easier for a hacker to get your password. For example, if a would-be hacker presses “forgot my password,” your bank might ask “what is your mother’s maiden name?” or “what is your pet’s name?” If he or she has that information handy, your account is vulnerable to being hacked.

Beware of third-party plug-ins and social media apps. Well-known third-party plug-ins include Adobe Flash Player and QuickTime, but exercise caution about lesser-known third-party apps, such as Facebook games, most of which are developed by a third party rather than Facebook. When a company is offering a free plug-in (app), it usually collects data from your friends and followers to sell. A third-party plug-in could even be a virus. The “cool” features on Facebook can jeopardize your security and privacy.

Scams are everywhere on Facebook. Some scams on Facebook might ask you to “like” something, click on a link or watch a video. Do not click on links unless you are confident they are legitimate. Also, make sure you know who your friends are.

Sometimes hackers make up fake Facebook personas to gain access to personal information. For example, they might join networks similar to those their targets belong to, such as a school or a workplace. Then the hacker would try to friend potential targets and, if he or she succeeds, obtain personal information, such as phone numbers or addresses. So if you have a “fake” Facebook friend who is able to see your address, and you post about your upcoming vacation plans, the hacker now knows when your house will be empty.

It’s also important to exercise care when using your cell phone. Smartphones track your geolocation. So when you Tweet or upload a picture to Facebook from your smartphone, you might be broadcasting your location.

When uploading pictures, make sure you’re comfortable with the photo remaining on Facebook and the web for a while, possibly forever. Even after you delete a photo, Facebook might not delete it from the Facebook servers anytime soon. Someone with the URL for the photo can access it — and save it — until Facebook acts, and the average time for Facebook to delete photos from its server is about 18 months!

Update the privacy and security setting of your social media accounts regularly. Facebook changes its privacy settings often, making it more difficult to keep your private information and photos within your chosen circle of friends and family.

Finally, make sure to clear your cookies often!