January 28, 2013
[Editor’s note: Sorry for the hiatus on my blogs recently. I’ve gotten swamped by work, and ran out of pre-written posts just before the holidays here in the US. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that I’m posting this particular column =) ]
When you go online and post, blog, tweet, DM, etc.; you place information about yourself out there in the Internet. Granted, that’s the whole point to Social Networking, but many of us have seemingly forgotten that the Internet is an open community, not a private telephone line.
So, here’s a few “rules of the road” to follow to help keep yourself safe;
1 – Know what you’re clicking on. These days, it is unbelievably common to see posts that contain links to websites. The vast majority of these are perfectly safe, but some are actually phishing or attack sites that can make your life miserable very quickly. The good news is that many Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Media tools will allow you to preview a link before you click on it. In fact, many now allow you to auto-expand the URL of a short-link (like a bit.ly or jmp link) so you can see the URL of the actual destination site. Just hover over the link to see where it leads to. If you don’t know what the destination site is, if it doesn’t apply to the tweet or post, or if you have no idea why you’d be getting that message to begin with – then don’t click.
2 – People can be impersonated. Feel like you want to share something personal in a DM to that person who’s been making conversation with you? Think twice. While the majority of people online are who they say they are (though some of us use pen names of course), there are folks who are scam artists who will try to get you to give up personal information, money, secrets, etc. Don’t be fooled, make sure you know who the person really is first.
3 – People can also be hacked. Twitter and Facebook and many other Social Networks are constantly trying to improve security and help folks not get hacked, but it still happens with alarming regularity. Not following some of theses rules is a sure way to make it happen, but sometimes it’s just a really good hacker finding a way to get into someone’s account that they shouldn’t have access to. When you get an odd DM (“Hey, what are you doing in this video”) or something seems amiss, it very well could be someone else pretending to be a friend you know. DM back and confirm that it’s really them BEFORE you give up any information or click on any links.
4 – Don’t post it if it isn’t public (no, not even in a DM). I’ve said this one before and I’ll keep saying it until everyone gets it. If you wouldn’t shout it out at the top of your lungs while standing in the middle of Times Square in New York; if you wouldn’t want your boss and your grandmother to both read it; then do not post it. Anything you put online – even if it seems to be in a private message or DM – can, and eventually will, become public. Save yourself a lot of embarrassment now and avoid posting anything you don’t want the world to see.
5 – Be careful what services you use. Many socially-integrated services can gain information from your profiles and timelines. The majority clearly spell out what they’re going to be seeing and using, but you still need to be careful. Every time you authorize an application, carefully read the authorization page to be sure you know EXACTLY what it will have access to, and what it will do with that access. If the app doesn’t have a web page explaining what rights it needs on your Twitter or Facebook accounts, and more importantly WHY it needs those rights; don’t use that app. Vote with your wallet and find a different app that is up-front about what it needs access to and why.
6 – De-authorize any apps you no longer use. Companies get bought out, are acquired, or merged, or otherwise change their ownership. Companies also change their policies and procedures over time. If you’re no longer using a particular socially-integrated app, then go to the settings pages of your various Social Networks and de-authorize or remove that app. This way, if the owner of that app changes companies or policies, you can be sure that they no longer have access to your data.
7 – Use all security features. Many people don’t know that Google and Facebook both offer forms of two-factor authentication. Once turned on, you cannot log into your Google account or load Facebook in a new browser or on a new device without putting in a pin that Google/Facebook sends as an SMS text to your phone. Using features like this (or similar features on other networks) can help secure your account even further, with a minimum of extra work for you day-to-day. Take advantage of them whenever they’re available!
Stay sane, stay safe, and remember that it’s a wild worldwide web out there.