We’ve been asked several times to get a Facebook account, get a MySpace page, get a Twitter account or whatever. We have a blog and we feel that is sufficient. (Although we may have set up those accounts for work.)
If you take just a second to think about what you are actually doing, putting your personal information and whereabouts online for anyone to access, it can get kind of scary. Here are some great pointers from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team. (US-CERT) Not to be confused with CERT - Community Emergency Response Team.
What security implications do these sites present?
Social networking sites rely on connections and communication, so they encourage you to provide a certain amount of personal information. When deciding how much information to reveal, people may not exercise the same amount of caution as they would when meeting someone in person because
- the internet provides a sense of anonymity
- the lack of physical interaction provides a false sense of security
- they tailor the information for their friends to read, forgetting that others may see it
- they want to offer insights to impress potential friends or associates
While the majority of people using these sites do not pose a threat, malicious people may be drawn to them because of the accessibility and amount of personal information available on them. The more information malicious people have about you, the easier it is for them to take advantage of you. Predators may form relationships online and then convince unsuspecting individuals to meet them in person.
I don’t even want to search for stories about predators and kids online and things like that. Just know that bad things happen and to be very careful of the info you share online. Would you tell complete strangers? (For example if a site asks you for your birthday just put Jan 1, 1900 so they never know your real age.) Talk about over-sharing, I totally need to do a better job of keeping information private and off my personal blog.
How can you protect yourself?
- Limit the amount of personal information you post - Do not post information that would make you vulnerable (e.g., your address, information about your schedule or routine). If your connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing.
- Remember that the internet is a public resource - Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing. This includes information in your profile and in blogs and other forums. Also, once you post information online, you can’t retract it. Even if you remove the information from a site, saved or cached versions may still exist on other people’s machines (see Guidelines for Publishing Information Online for more information).
- Be wary of strangers - The internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives (see Using Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms Safely for more information). Consider limiting the people who are allowed to contact you on these sites. If you interact with people you do not know, be cautious about the amount of information you reveal or agreeing to meet them in person.
- Be skeptical - Don’t believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about various topics, including their own identities. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent; it could be unintentional, a product of exaggeration, or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taken any action.
- Check privacy policies - Some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam (see Reducing Spam for more information). Also, try to locate the policy for handling referrals to make sure that you do not unintentionally sign your friends up for spam. Some sites will continue to send email messages to anyone you refer until they join.
Children are especially susceptible to the threats that social networking sites present. Although many of these sites have age restrictions, children may misrepresent their ages so that they can join. By teaching children about internet safety, being aware of their online habits, and guiding them to appropriate sites, parents can make sure that the children become safe and responsible users (see Keeping Children Safe Online for more information).