Social Networking and Protecting Your Identity

This is the fifth article in our information security awareness series for the month of October.  Enjoy!

In the last article on social networking, we discussed some new networking tools like Face book, Twitter, and Sarasota-based Fast Pitch Networking. This month, we are going to examine how to protect your identity and privacy on social networking sites.  

Friend of a Friend
Social networking sites are based on the model of friends and colleagues inviting other friends to participate in these online communities. They are based on who you know, or shared interests.   Have you ever received an invitation from someone you do not recognize?  Be careful with these ‘stranger’ requests. Do a little research first. How did this person get your name? Are they a friend of one of your friends? If you cannot connect the dots on how this person found you or connected to you, then do not connect with them. There are individuals who look to connect to others in hopes of unsolicited advertising. There are others even more unscrupulous who are connecting to people to propagate virus and malware to others.  If you receive a connection from someone you do not recognize, check them out first.

Do Tell, but not Everything.
Once you starting connecting to others online, what information do you share with them?   These sites are designed for us to get to know each other and connect. You find out interesting stories and facts about people, and you might be inclined to share information about yourself. Be careful what you tell!   Do not share information that may present vulnerability in the future.  Do not give information like your street address, home telephone number, or other identifying information. It is very easy for people to string together snippets of information and use that against you. This is the basis of social engineering attacks and these can lead to crimes in the real world like burglary and robbery.  Be discriminate with the information you share online.  Are you comfortable with complete strangers knowing that you sleep in Superman pajamas and drink coffee out of a Mickey Mouse mug?  If you do not want complete strangers to know these facts about you, do not enter it online. 

Be Skeptical, Don’t be Dumb.
Don’t believe everything you read. The Internet is a very public place and everything is open to everyone.  People will create information and craft messages to paint themselves in a difference light. Some users on social networking sites change their age to appear younger, add a high school or college to make a connection with someone, or even upload a picture of someone else in efforts to conceal their true identity.

Concealing identities is especially a concern with teenagers. There are many stories in the media of adults with criminal intent portraying themselves as teenagers on social networking sites. As a parent, you should be aware of what websites your children are active on, and be active on those sites as well.  It is good to be Face book friend of your child.  Everyone can misrepresent themselves, and if it is a teenager, there could be legal ramifications that you had not even considered.

Here are some Defensive Maneuvers to Protect Yourself
According to credit information provider Equifax, fraudsters could make off with users’ personal information in order to commit identity theft. Credit information providers and other financial institutions are urging social networking users to limit the amount of information they post online.

  • Never, ever give out your Social Security or driver’s license numbers.
  • Avoid listing the following information publicly: date of birth, hometown, home address, year of high school or college graduation, primary email address
  • Don’t give out your username & password to anyone (even if it helps you connect to others and build your friends)
  • Only invite people to your network that you know or have met, not friends of friends and strangers.
  • For password security verification questions, us a password for all answers (rather than the answer to the specific question). For example, if one of the verification questions is “What is the name of your pet?” Instead of typing in “Spot”, type in “Sp!t55” or password that is easy to remember.
  • Vary your passwords and change them regularly
  • Don’t use common verification answers such as your date of birth or your mother’s maiden name
  • Be wary of the intentions of anyone you meet on these sites
  • Watch where you post and what you say, as it can be used against you later.
  • Set up a Google Alert for your name and your children’s names. When Google finds your name, it will send an email to you of the link it found. This is especially helpful if you are trying to understand what social networks your children are using.
  • Monitor your credit reports for strange activities that may be a sign of identify theft.