Web surfing is no longer a solo affair. Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks have quickly become an integral part of the online culture, and with them comes a whole new array of potential security threats. In this article, I'll identify some of the key dangers of social networking and offer a few easy steps that you can take to stay safe online.
Social networking is built on the idea of sharing information openly and fostering a sense of community. Unfortunately, an online network of individuals actively sharing their experiences and seeking connections with other like-minded people can be easy prey for hackers bent on social-engineering and phishing attacks. It's important to be aware of the threats, and to maintain a healthy skepticism in your online interactions.
Be Careful What You Share
For starters, even in an open community of sharing, you should observe some boundaries. As President Obama warned students in his address to schools earlier this month, "be careful what you post on Facebook. Whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life."
The core truth of that statement can be applied to any social networking site, and possibly even to the Internet as a whole. As a general rule, refrain from posting things online that you will regret later. Odds are good that someone, someday, will stumble across it, and it may come back to haunt you--especially if you are planning to run for public office.
Aside from simply abstaining from posting embarrassing or inflammatory comments online, take two fundamentals to heart: Remember who your friends are, and know that a friend of a friend can be an enemy.
Remember Who Your Friends Are
When you write a Twitter tweet or post a Facebook status update, you have to keep your audience in mind. More and more these days, we hear stories of people who have forgotten that their boss is part of their network and have said things online that have gotten them reprimanded, even fired.
The consequences of inappropriate online comments have become so common that they have earned an entry in the Urban Dictionary: Facebook fired. Saying something as obvious and seemingly innocent as "I'm bored" in a status update during work hours can have dire consequences if the wrong people see it.
With services like Twitter, or the recent changes to Facebook that allow anyone to view and search updates, you really have no way to hide.
Friends of Friends May See Your Post
So, you've thought it through. You want to shout to the world what you really think about your boss's forcing you to work overtime and making you come in on the weekend. You've checked and double-checked, and you've determined that your boss is not in your network, so you let loose on the keyboard and speak your mind.
Unfortunately, you're not out of the woods just yet. Being outside of your network, your boss can't see your post directly, but if one of your Facebook friends who are connected with your boss comments on your status update--even just to say "I sympathize"--your boss may be able to click on the link through the common friend and see your post anyway.
Go ahead, be social--share your trials and tribulations with your growing network of adoring followers. To be safe, however, do so with one rule in mind: Don't ever post anything online that you aren't comfortable with everyone seeing, because eventually they probably will.
Marrying privacy and social networking may seem unintuitive. How can you be social and open, yet protect your privacy? Well, just because you are choosing to share some information with a select group of people does not necessarily mean that you want to share all of your information, or that you want the information you share to be visible to all.
Facebook in particular has suffered from a number of issues related to privacy concerns. If you have used Facebook for a while, you may have noticed ads with your friends' names or photos associated with them.
Facebook does provide privacy controls for you to customize what types of information should be available to third-party applications. If you look at the Facebook Ads tab of the privacy controls, though, you'll notice that it offers no way for you to opt out of the internal Facebook Ads. It merely states that "Facebook strives to create relevant and interesting advertisements to you and your friends."