The following is a guest blog by Lucy Benton from Admission Service. 

Social media networks are as popular as ever. Millions of people are using them for fun, communication, reading news, finding friends and business. Unfortunately, there are people who see social networks as a way to get hands on personal data, discover where you are at the moment, and do other shady things that could be potentially dangerous to the security of your assets and possessions.

In this article, I will outline the top security threats and precautions to help you to stay safe from people who use social networks for the wrong reasons.

Threat #1: Getting your profile hacked

We’ve heard about this time and time again. Someone on Facebook or other social media networks reports their profile as hacked when unwanted content start being posted from their account. Social media websites are indeed one of the most common targets of hackers who go there to interject their malicious code to break the security. The easiest target for hackers in social media is shortened links created using bit.ly

How to stay safe

  • Check shortened links. Since they are a popular target of hackers, you need to make sure that the ones you click on are safe. Thankfully, there are services for just that task: Sucuri is the one you can trust.
  • Manual check. This is actually pretty easy: you just hover the pointer over a link without clicking it, and see the URL address in the browser (typically in the bottom of the screen). If you have some doubts about visiting the site, just don’t click on it.
social media security links

Hovering over a link will show you where it will take you

Threat #2: Overconfidence

Sounds surprising? Well, there is a pretty good chance that you've made this mistake at least once. Here’s what it is: many social media users think that if they have an antivirus software installed on their computer they can forget about security. As the result, they post information that could be considered pretty much usable for hackers, such as location of workplace, birthday, travel plans and even bank account data!

For example, some students looking for the best essay tips often provide their information in a popup window, and forget that the whereabouts of this information is out of their control now.

How to stay safe

  • Keep personal information away from social networks. You have no way of knowing if your posts about going to Mexico for vacation are not seen by local burglars.

Threat #3: Stolen identity

Another serious threat that occurs very often. As reported by BBC, the number of identity fraud cases increased by 57% in 2015, as more and more hackers targeted social media. It’s easier for them to get their hands on personal information since social media profiles generally contain date of birth, workplace, home address and email address.

One common technique used by hackers for identity fraud is to click on the “Forgot Password” link and try to recover information using the email or personal information posted on social media. Very simple, and unfortunately, very effective in many cases.

How to stay safe

  • Profile updates. An innocent post can cause a disaster if people with wrong reasons find it. For example, you post an adorable picture of you and your mom on her birthday and write something like “Happy birthday to the best mom in the world.” Sounds pretty common and innocent, right? Well, yeah, but think about this: hackers find the post, go to the profile of your mom and find her maiden name. One of the most common security questions is… you guessed it right: “What is your mother’s maiden name?” As the result, an innocent post becomes a target.
  • Password strength. Make your social media profile password as strong as possible to avoid having your identity stolen by hackers. This means avoiding common options like birthday dates and name of family members. It would not be difficult to obtain this information from your profile.
social media security risk teen posting

Image Source: Pew Internet

Threat #4: Security flaws within social media sites

These ones rarely occur but they can be the most dangerous to your account. One of the latest examples is a well-known bug called Heartbleed that attacked some of the most popular social networks and other websites. It was a security vulnerability in OpenSSL software that allowed hackers to access the memory of data servers. Yes, it is as creepy as it sounds. All information, including credit card information, username and password is potentially at risk here.

How to stay safe

  • There is pretty much nothing you can do about it. Sorry, folks. We just have to rely on websites to use Heartbleed tests to protect the data.

Threat #5: Burglars

We briefly mentioned this one above, but it deserves its own explanation. Telling the world about the place you’re going on vacation sounds awesome. Your friends will congratulate you and wish you a great journey. The burglars will, too. These people stay awake at night trying to figure out your vacation plans, and your post brings them closer to their goal! By saying how long you’ll be away and where you live (tags will do that for you), your home becomes a potential target.

How to stay safe

  • Avoid telling the online world about your plans. It’s clear what could happen to your home.
  • Specify who can see your posts and photos. All people online should not see your profile updates, so only friends and family groups must be able to view them.
  • Just relax! You’re on vacation, wait until you get home to post all those photos. In the meantime, forget about social networks and relax.

The Bottom Line

There are so many ways in which hackers can get their hands on your personal data. The good news is that you are as exposed as you allow yourself to be, so control is in your hands. Just take extra precautions to make sure that personal data doesn’t get to people with wrong reasons by using the techniques described in the article.

And don’t forget to check security and privacy settings on your social media profiles right away! They're there to protect you. Have any of your own tips? Let me know in the comments below!