Social Media and Cybersecurity – Navigating the Risks

November 5th, 2020
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Social media is everywhere, all the time. Whether scrolling through political posts on Facebook, tracking news and trends on Twitter, posting vacation pictures on Instagram, conversing with work colleagues on LinkedIn, or making silly videos on TikTok, chances are, you and your family have a social media digital footprint. But all those people online all the time are a tempting target for cyberattacks.  So how do we all stay safe while also using social media to stay in touch?

Why social media is a tempting target

The first thing to remember is social media might be everywhere now, but it’s been around a long time. The first social networks appeared in the late 1990s. Long-time social media users will remember sites like Six Degrees or Friendster, and plenty of folks of a certain age get a lot of mileage making fun of their old Myspace accounts, where tailoring your homepage turned a lot of accounts into the digital equivalent of a messy college dorm.

The sites we use the most now started appearing in the mid-2000s. Facebook and Twitter rose to prominence in 2006, and Youtube the year before that. Other social networks focusing on photos or music like Flickr, Tumblr, Spotify, and more proliferated around the same time. It was around this time that social media use broke away from something for just young, internet-savvy users to do – it’s often said the reason Facebook in particular cemented itself online was the fact that multi-generational users connected there. (Raise your hand if you’ve had to help a grandparent learn to use Facebook.)

But with the rise in use comes a rise in cybersecurity issues. Data breaches have demonstrated weaknesses in social networks for hackers to slip through, and naiveté on the part of users means hackers don’t even have to break through the site’s defenses – phishing schemes, spoofed accounts, and other ways to trick users into giving up their credentials are a constant threat, targeting users who may not be ready or educated to spot when they’re being fooled. (Raise your hand if you’ve also helped a parent or grandparent deal with a spoofed account.)

What social media users need to watch for

It’s often on the actual user to be aware of online threats and stay safe. If you’re your family’s cybersecurity expert, consider educating them on some of the most frequent challenges they may encounter while using social media.

1. Phishing attempts

Hackers have become incredibly skilled at spoofing real websites, including social media sites. If you receive a login alert or warning that your account has been hacked, make sure the message is legitimate – don’t click through on links received by email or in messenger. Go back to the source itself (the actual social media site, for example) and check your account there rather than blindly clicking a link.

2. Oversharing

There’s two kinds of oversharing to be aware of on social media. First is the real-world kind – giving away vacation plans or sharing personal details that could be used to invade your private information puts you at risk. But also, think about the information we may give away that could give hints to frequently used passwords. Yes, it’s best practice to avoid things like your child’s first name and birthday as your password, but many people still do so – and hackers know it. Think twice before taking that quiz that asks you your mother’s maiden name or what high school you went to.

3. Social engineering

The bad guys know how to prey on fear, and they’re very good at doing so. Direct messages on social media asking for immediate action – whether it’s a spoofed account from someone in your network asking for help, an urgent call for a donation, or an irresistible link to an article all could lead to giving away valuable information or even downloading malware from an unsafe website.

It’s not always the user who is the weak link in security, though. LinkedIn, for example, had data breaches in 2012 and 2016 exposing the passwords of millions of users.

This is why securing your home device is so important. You never know when the next attack will strike or how, whether through social media or elsewhere. Having an always-on cybersecurity solution that can identify attacks before they harm your computer or steal your data are a must, regardless of which social media sites you use (or avoid).

Sophos Home runs unobtrusively in the background, keeping an eye on your data while you traverse the web. It won’t interfere with your surfing until it has to. Also, a solution like Sophos Home can enable you to manage the cybersecurity settings for your relatives and loved ones remotely. Remember setting up your grandparents on Facebook? Well, now you can make sure they don’t fall victim to a security breach even if you can’t be there in-person to do so.

The right cybersecurity solution can ease the anxiety of being on social media sites so you can get back to worrying about how much time you spend scrolling through memes.

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