Cyber Security Awareness Tip #3

The popularity of social networking sites continues to increase, especially among teenagers and young adults. The nature of these sites introduces security risks, so you should take certain precautions.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Limit the amount of personal information you post – Do not post information that would make you vulnerable, such as your address or 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. Also be considerate when posting information, including photos, about your connections.
  • Remember that the internet is a public resource – Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing. This includes information and photos 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.
  • Be wary of strangers – The internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives. 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, an exaggeration, or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taking any action.
  • Evaluate your settings – Take advantage of a site’s privacy settings. The default settings for some sites may allow anyone to see your profile. You can customize your settings to restrict access to only certain people. However, there is a risk that even this private information could be exposed, so don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want the public to see. Also, be cautious when deciding which applications to enable, and check your settings to see what information the applications will be able to access.
  • Use strong passwords – Protect your account with passwords that cannot easily be guessed. If your password is compromised, someone else may be able to access your account and pretend to be you.
  • 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. 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.
  • Use and maintain anti-virus software – Anti-virus software recognizes most known viruses and protects your computer against them, so you may be able to detect and remove the virus before it can do any damage.  Because attackers are continually writing new viruses, it is important to keep your definitions up to date.


Used with permission US-CERT Department of Homeland Security http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST06-003.html