The world we live in is guided by rules that must be implemented for everyone to stay safe. Whatever you do, there are safety rules that you need to pay attention to. Be it operating a machine, walking by the streets, or using the internet, you need to be aware of safety rules to stay safe. There has been an influx in the number of individuals and companies that use and rely on the internet. Take for instance in these trying times when the world has gone into a shutdown due to the outbreak of COVID19; the majority of companies have turned to the internet to continue operating. Social media is where the marketing game is played. Individuals no longer spend their time on social media for chatting purposes. They are now there to check the latest products, news, how-to, and so forth. Ask yourself, how much time you spend on social media daily? We all agree that the majority of us can’t even dare track the actual time we spend on social media. These are platforms that have become a source of entertainment as well as communication.
Although social media seems to be bells and whistles, there is a daunting fact attached to it. In spite of a lot of new features introduced recently, social media platforms often place our safety as well as privacy at risk. Therefore, just like any other functionality which comes with significant risk factors, social media also requires the implementation of safety rules. In this article, I will underline the essential social media rules to take note of in 2021.
However, before addressing how to protect personal information safe on social media, its best you get to understand most of the possible risks associated with social media. Knowing how to stay safe on social media is taken lightly by the masses. However, most of the users get their eyes open when it's already too late.
What Makes Social Networks Risky?
If we are to consider the current statistics as well as news concerning social network’s safety, it is evident that users’ privacy and security is in jeopardy and far from being safe even after the implementation of VPNs. In this era, masses use social media almost every hour sharing posts, tweets etc. With that said, guess what cybercriminals target the most? A web platform with more active subscribers or users. Therefore, its nice to be part of a large community but you should know that it comes with high risk.
You may ask; why are huge social media platforms preferable targets to cybercriminals? For starters, according to Social Media Platforms and the Cybercrime Economy article, cybercriminals obtain a rough figure of about $3.25 billion per annum through violating social media. That’s a huge figure and makes one wonder how they manage to generate such amounts combined. Remember, most of the cybercriminals use malware to attack more victims. With that said, social media platforms provide 20% more methods of transferring malware compared to other forms of websites on the internet. Therefore, this becomes the initial and major reason why cybercriminals attack such type of services. Since social media provides major ground for advertising content, infected ads are the dominant method of transferring malware followed by plug-ins and apps, as well as shared pictures and videos.
One infected user means they have a potential of infecting their contacts. The social media environment is like a chain. Users are connected into a big web with each person having an average connection of 100+ users. This helps cyber criminals to transfer malware to a much wider audience.
Another reason why social media is widely used by cybercriminals is due to lack of knowledge throughout social media users. The majority of users do not consider social media platforms as risky. They are only concerned about protecting their banking apps or websites not realizing that even through social media platforms, your funds can be easily exploited. Trading of personal data is among the commonly used methods by cybercriminals on social media. Nearly every 40 seconds, a hack is done.
With the technology continuing to evolve, so do the malefactors. They continue getting smarter managing to override barriers set to defend such crimes. In the US alone, 81 percent of the population have a social media profile. Therefore, this is a clear reason why attackers choose social media as their playground.
There are a bunch of factors that attackers consider before hacking an account. More often, business profiles are the main targets since they are a potential gold mine to hackers. Moreover, attackers use certain parameters such as the interests and habits of individuals to lure them into the trap. Hackers tend to use “innocent” posts to cause harm. They also develop lookalike apps that look legitimate to the end-user. These are the apps that are used to penetrate and steal data from the victim’s computer without their knowledge. With users getting more and more into the habit of sharing personal data, things are becoming even easier for hackers to get what they want.
It is rooted deep into the core of our evolutionary past as humans to have the desire to communicate as well as share our good or bad experiences. In this era where technology has complimented sharing, it has become pretty easy to communicate with literally anyone around the globe. With the functionality of sharing information on social media placed at the forefront, users in most cases fail to filter what they share and who can access what they shared. Thus, this makes it possible and to some extent easier for attackers to collect data from their targeted victims’ networking accounts. A classic example is that most of the social media users are not aware of, is sharing their current location when posting images and videos. By doing so, users are telling everyone that they are far away from the home which becomes a piece of benefiting information to the hackers.
Social Media Threats
The main reason why we use social media is to share our experience with friends, followers, as well as family members. However, in most cases, the posted information can be very private hence jeopardizing their privacy and security. Moreover, social media platforms have become a major attack vector that companies are not able to turn a blind eye to.
What are Social Media Risks?
Social engineering incorporates the use of various forms of malware attacks via human communication. This threat is used to manipulate the user into giving their data voluntarily. The process of the whole attack is complicated. It begins with the attacker gathering information about their potential victim before forming a relationship with them. Once trust has been built, the malefactor begins to obtain personal data from the victim through sending a malicious document, picture or video.
Cyberstalking is among the most common reasons why people should reconsider before posting their private information on social media. Law enforcement agencies are not able to obtain evidence hence the reason why cyberstalking continues to be the deadliest criminal activity conducted on social media platforms. The criminal obtains information from the victims’ social media profile such as their address, contact details, as well as schedule etc. This data will then be used to threaten or possibly kidnap the victim. Cyberstalking consequences may lead to emotional intimidation and even to physical harm.
Phishing attacks are among the most common methods of attacks. I am sure by now you have heard of the term. This method is used to obtain personal data via email. You may be wondering how it is then related to social media attacks. Well, remember social media platforms are now the main form of communication. Which means the platforms might as well be used to deceive the victim. Users easily trust what is sent by their friends, family, or colleagues. Now, the attacker creates an account and uses it to interact with potential victims sending them malicious video or audio files. The victim, at the stage of trusting the user disguised as a friend or customer, clicks on the link not knowing they have given the attacker access to their device.
Fake accounts are also the most used method of a cyberattack on social media. The attacker creates a fake account intending to damage the victim’s reputation. The attacker impersonates the victim after having obtained valuable personal information through building trust via fake friendship.
Botnets are used by cybercriminals to distribute malware links. Bots are programs that are set to function the same way. There are various types of social bots which include spamming organizations’ circles, use of trend hashtags to reach more potential victims, spam posting in an attempt to receive a single or two clicks, or retweet storm.
How to Prevent Social Media Threats?
Since I have gone through the common threats on social media, its time I address the elephant in the room. Here are some of the safety tips that can diminish the risk of getting attacked on social media platform:
Keep your system software updated
Although the software update does not take much of one’s precious time, we still find people neglecting the tasks. Not keeping your software updated can lead to serious security holes that cybercriminals can easily use to penetrate your system. Remember, updates are not always about improving user-experience. Actually, in most cases, what software developers don’t tell you is that these updates are mainly for patching security holes found in the previous versions alongside improving its usability. Of course, apps notifications can be annoying. However, turning them off means you might miss out on important updates that are related to security. Which software to update? Well, all of them that contain your personal information. Actually, on second thought, you should keep all of your software installed in your devices updated as this will strengthen your security measure.
Use a Strong Password
Creating a strong password may be encouraged by almost every platform but people seem to take it lightly. A strong password is a major security layer that if not taken seriously can lead to data being stolen. All social media platforms require personalized password protection. Now, at this point, you may think of just creating a single strong password that you can use across all platforms. However, I advise you to think twice before doing so. First of all, what happens if one of your social media accounts are breached and your password is exposed? That means all of your accounts can be accessed using that same password. Therefore, instead of just creating a single strong password, try to make a unique strong password for each platform. If remembering those passwords is an issue, I advise you to consider a reliable password manager. Moreover, try to change your password regularly; to be precise, on a monthly basis. To strengthen the protection of your account, you can also add a two-factor authentication method. This will add another verification layer even after having correctly entered the password.
Utilize Privacy Settings
Don’t overlook privacy settings as they are a key element to keeping your profile safe. For starters, avoid sharing too much personal information as it can easily attract cybercriminals. Keep in mind that any social media needs your email, username, and password to create a profile for you. Therefore, try to avoid adding unnecessary personal data to your social media accounts. Moreover, exclude your social media profile page from being indexed in search engines.
Geotagging is a cool feature that verifies to people that you are in a particular area during holidays or vacations while posting pictures or videos. However, this feature can be daunting when it comes to sharing your actual address. Your current location should be kept as a secret to avoid any unfavourable consequences. Remember, what is shared online can last forever hence you should always think carefully about what you are sharing.
Be Cautious of Friend requests you Accepts
Sharing happy moments is in human nature. However, it matters most who we share these moments with as not everyone has good intentions. Therefore, to be in control of who can view shared personal data, it is necessary to carefully filter friendship requests you accept. Make sure the person that you accept a friendship request you either know them personally or have verified their profile.
Verify a link before clicking on it
As explained above, internet phishing is commonly used by attackers, thus you should rush into clicking any link sent to you even by a trusted friend. Attackers understand that it is easy for users to trust anything sent by a friend hence use this opportunity to send malware to users via social media. Moreover, you should pay attention to unusual offers which promise ridiculous rewards if you complete a survey or something similar.
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