Imagine your excitement going to a place where all your friends are waiting. They’re sharing stories of their days, swapping photos of their cute kids and recent travel experiences and dishing on the latest news and gossip. Sounds like a fun place to be, right?
The downside is these friends are also recovering from a bad head cold and may spread those germs to you. And there are other people – people you don’t know – waiting to take advantage of the information being shared between friends. Would these disadvantages keep you away? Perhaps, but more likely, you’d take proper precautions to keep the germs at bay and stay a little more aware of your surroundings.
The same attitude needs to come into play in the social media realm. Social media sites are great places to keep up with friends, share information and stay up to date on the latest happenings. At the same time, social media is an increasingly common tool for hackers to spread viruses and malware.
This is where the commonsense prevention comes into play. In the same way you would wash your hands after contact with someone sick, there are ways to stay virus-free in the social media world.
These five tips will get you on the way to a safe and rewarding social media experience:
Have a unique password and change it often.
Create a strong password (one with capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols) and change it regularly (i.e., every three months). Change your password immediately if your account is compromised.
Many people use the same password – even a strong one – for multiple accounts. This is not a good idea because if one of those accounts gets compromised then all the others are at risk. A password manager – one that securely stores and even develops strong passwords – is a good tool to use to help keep track of all those passwords.
If security questions are required, make sure the answers are ones you will remember, but not something easily known or guessed by an acquaintance. For added security, consider memorizing incorrect answers to commonly asked questions (i.e., mother’s maiden name).
It should go without saying that you shouldn’t share your passwords with others.
Invest in anti-virus and anti-malware programs.
This is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to protect the valuable information on your computer as well as the computer itself. Be sure to update the virus detection program regularly; this will ensure the program is up to date on the latest threats. Lastly, scan the computer on a regular basis to be sure it has a clean bill of health.
Think before you click.
A friend on Facebook shares what appears to be a link to an interesting news story, except this particular friend hardly ever shares news stories on Facebook. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t click! Reach out to them personally to see if he/she actually posted it. Be especially wary about celebrity links – commonly used for click bait – and overly general posts, such as “Check this out!” with a link.
Try to be mindful about URLs (web addresses). Often hackers hide malicious websites behind familiar names or brands to make users think they’re affiliated with the legitimate sites. Always double check shortened URLs to be sure they lead to trustworthy websites. Better yet, go directly to the website in your browser and search for the relevant information instead of clicking on a suspicious link.
Spread the word.
On social media, you’re most likely to get malware from people you know and trust. That’s social media’s appeal for hackers; it gives them an easy way in. You click on the link and watch a video, and meanwhile malware is being downloaded on your computer.
If you see something suspicious on a friend’s account, let them know! Your friend might not realize their account has been hacked. Further, alert the social media site administrators so they can look into the issue. The more people there are taking control of this issue, the faster it can be resolved and (hopefully!) eradicated from the site.
Discuss the threat of social malware with your friends and children. The more people who are aware of what suspicious posts look like, the safer we’ll all be!
Use your common sense.
Like all Internet interactions, social media use should be done with care and common sense. Here are a few more quick tips to guide you:
- Log out of your accounts after every session, especially on shared/public computers.
- Know your social media contacts in real life.
- Update, update, update! Make sure the programs, applications and browsers are running the most recent versions. Important threat protection and fixes are built in to these updates.
- Download application and updates only from the original source and research any new applications to be sure they are safe.
Harness the benefits and reduce your risk.
Social media has many benefits, from the ability to keep up with classmates and friends to getting the latest information on breaking news and trends, but it should be used with safety and privacy in mind. Stay aware of potential threats, and be careful about clicking on links or downloading files. With new and different social malware popping up every day, there’s no way to guarantee a 100% secure experience, but we believe the positives outweigh the negatives. By keeping these five tips in mind (and sharing them with your friends), you will diminish the chances of being a victim of social malware. Happy sharing!
About the Author
Aamir Lakhani is a senior security strategist at Fortinet’s FortiGuard Labs. Follow him on Twitter @aamirlakhani.