Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Windows Live Spaces are popular for how they help people connect with others to share information and maintain relationships. But as the popularity of these sites grows, so do the risks in using them.
With hackers, spammers, virus writers, identity thieves, and other criminals busy infiltrating social networks, use these tips to help protect yourself.
Know what you've posted about yourself.
A common way that hackers break into financial or other accounts is by clicking the "Forgot your password?" link on the account login page. To break into your account, they search for the answers to your security questions, such as your birth date, home town, secondary school class, or mother's maiden name. If the site allows, make up your own password question, and don't draw the answer from material anyone could find with a quick search.
For more information, please read:
Don't trust that a message is really from who it says it's from.
Hackers can break into accounts and send messages that look like they're from your friends (including invitations to join new social networks), but in reality aren't. If you suspect that a message is fraudulent, use an alternate method to contact your friend to find out.
For more information, see how Scammers exploit Facebook friendships.
To avoid giving away the email addresses of your friends, do not allow social networking services to scan your email address book.
When you join a new social network, you might receive an offer to enter your email address and password to find out if your contacts are on the network. The site might use this information to send email messages to everyone in your contact list or even everyone you've ever sent an email message to with that email address. Social networking sites should explain that they're going to do this, but some do not.
Type the address of your social networking site directly into your browser or use your personal bookmarks.
If you click a link to a social networking site through an email or another website, you might actually be entering your account name and password into a fake site where your personal information could be stolen.
For more tips about how to avoid such phishing scams, see Email and web scams: How to help protect yourself.
Be selective about who you accept as a friend on a social network.
Identity thieves might create fake profiles in order to get information from you.
Choose your social network carefully.
Assume that everything you put on a social networking site is permanent.
Even if you can delete your account, anyone on the Internet can easily print photos or text about you or save images and videos of you to a computer.
Be careful about installing extras on your site.
Many social networking sites allow you to download third-party applications that let you do more with your personal page. Criminals sometimes use these applications to steal your personal information. To download and use third-party applications safely, take the same safety precautions that you would take with any other program or file that you download from the web.
Use caution when you click links.
Even if these links come to you in messages supposedly from your friends, treat these links as you would links in email messages.
For more information on this, see Approach links in e-mail with caution and Click Fraud: Cybercriminals want you to 'like' it.
Think twice before you use social networking sites at work.
Employees may think of online social networking as little more than a pleasant distraction in the office. But accessing social networks in the office can open the company’s computer systems to damaging virus attacks and increased phishing attempts.
For more information, please read Be careful with social networking sites, especially at work.
Talk to your kids about social networking and the dangers that they could face while using such sites.
If you're a parent of children who actively use social networking sites, please read How to help your kids use social websites more safely.
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