Is Your Personal Information Visible to Everyone?

Facebook is both useful and fun, but hackers, cybercriminals and others can use it to assist in spreading malware, identity theft and other crimes.
July 2012
by Robin Wark

There is a lot to like about Facebook.

You can view photos of the grandkids whenever you want. You can find friends you lost track of years ago. Groups can easily invite you to exciting activities. You can keep up with the news about your favourite musicians, TV shows, businesses and more.

What there is not to like about Facebook is how it can expose you to malware, phishing schemes, credential harvesting scams, stalkers and more. Cybercriminals and hackers are taking advantage of this massively popular social networking site to prey upon users. To avoid being a victim, try these tips and hints below to keep your Facebook account secure.

Tips for securing your Facebook account
  • Enable SSL Encryption: You can set Facebook to use the SSL encryption protocol. This means a secure connection. You can see that SSL is on as HTTPS will appear in the URL and a small lock icon shows up in the address bar. It is recommended that you use SSL when Facebooking in public places, such as coffee shops, airports or libraries. This will help ward off hackers. To use SSL, go to Account Settings and choose Security on the left side. If Secure Browsing is not enabled, click Edit to enable it. Note that encrypted pages can take longer to load. Also, some third-party apps might not work with this protocol.
  • Do not share these things: Take an oath never to share:
    1. Social security number (or even just the last four digits)
    2. Home address
    3. Home or cell number
    4. Banking or credit card credentials
    All of these items could be used in identity theft and fraud. It is also a good idea not to share your birthdate. It could be used for identity theft as well or to hack your account if it is used in a security question. Some security experts recommend not providing your real birthdate to social networking sites at all. However, it is best to check the site's policy first to see if you are violating any terms by providing a fictional birthdate.
  • Customize your privacy settings: If your Facebook "friends" include people who are not close friends, it is best not to share everything with everybody. You can set up groups so that you share only certain types of information with certain friends.
  • Think first, post second: Remember what you post can be read by a lot of people. Not all of them might be real friends. There have been cases of users posting that they were going on vacation, who then had their houses robbed by opportunistic Facebook "friends." As well, status updates about locations could draw unwanted people to you.
  • Be careful where you click: Malware, such as the Koobface computer worm a few years ago, can be distributed through links on social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter. Be cautious about clicking on links from people you do not know well and on ones that promise an outlandish news story or video. Also, be careful about clicking on links from a legit organization promising something. This could be part of a phishing scheme where you are asked to go to a website and put in confidential information. If you are curious about something, search for the company's actual corporate website or call them.
  • Use caution with games and apps: Facebook has plenty of great online games and applications. Some, however, have been used to spread malware and spam accounts. Be cautious about apps that can write on your wall or message friends. It is also a good idea to use an app password. This is a one-use only password to login into your apps to avoid giving your regular Facebook credentials. To get one, go to Account Settings and click on the Security tab. Click Edit next to App Passwords and follow the instructions.
  • Log out when you are done: It sounds simple, but logging out of Facebook when you are finished can solve a number of problems. It can prevent a user at a public computer – or even your own computer or smartphone – from using your account for something devious.

Facebook can be great for keeping in touch or even playing games with friends. However, it is important to protect yourself online. Using the tips above can help keep you and your Facebook account safe.

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