Securing your social media profiles is easier and more important than you may think. Identity theft and electronic crimes are serious threats to anyone who uses social media. Unfortunately, most casual social media users take too few precautions to prevent their information from falling into the wrong hands. In an age where cyber criminals can ruin your life without warning — often from far away — it's essential to secure your online identity. These 10 tips will help you protect your sensitive data and let you enjoy social media safely.
1. Choose Unique Logins and Strong Passwords
Many people are still using the same username and password for multiple sites. While this may be easy to remember, it's also dangerous; if a hacker gets into one account, all are at risk. Users need to strong passwords in addition to unique logins. Avoid words that are easy to guess, like names of children, pets, street names and job titles. Opt for phrases instead of single words; throw in numerals, too. For case-sensitive passwords, use a mixture of capital and lowercase letters. If you have trouble remembering complicated passwords, use a password manager program to create and store secure passwords.
2. Change Your Passwords Regularly
If someone is intent on finding your password, it likely takes them time to crack your account. They may gather information in bits and pieces and use a program that guesses combinations of letters and numbers until the right one is found. The most effective defense against this is to change your social media passwords frequently. Some experts recommend changing passwords every three months. Again, password manager software can help you keep track of your ever-changing passwords.
3. Use Reputable Protection Software
Nearly every computer user understands the importance of having up-to-date antivirus and anti-spyware protection, as well as a firewall. But these precautions aren't always enough. The best idea is to invest in identity theft protection software. These programs are designed specifically to monitor your computer or device for the latest identity theft schemes and patterns. Tom's Guide has a great breakdown of the best identity theft protection software.
4. Optimize Your Privacy Settings
Every social media network has privacy settings. By default for these settings are weak. Learn your social media account's privacy settings to discover the most secure options. Generally, this means setting your social media profiles to private rather than public, in addition to ensuring all friend requests require manual approval. You may also want manual approval for any posts, links or photo tags associated with your account.
5. Refrain From Over-Sharing
When using social media, it's easy to forget that your private thoughts can easily become public. Teach yourself to consider whether your posts will reveal too much. Also, avoid filling out mass surveys that ask for personal information. These are usually posted as viewable to the public.
6. Avoid Clicking Suspicious Links
Phony links are one of the primary ways hackers spread viruses or malware. Never click on a social media link unless you know where it leads. You can discern by looking at the link itself. If it's a "short link" that consists of only numbers and letters, and doesn't include the right domain name, avoid clicking. If a post sounds suspicious to you and contains a link, don't click it. One popular hacker ploy is to post something with a subject like "I found this video of you…" or "LOL! You won't believe what they're saying about you." These links often lead to a message advising you to update your software. However, the update is actually malware in disguise. Even links posted by your friends can be suspicious, as their accounts could have been hacked. Verify that you see the right domain name before clicking on a link. If something feels off, don't click.
7. Don't Share Vacation Info
There have been several instances of hackers using social media to turn cyber-crime into real-life theft. These criminals take note of posts that mention vacations and use the information posted on social media accounts to rob homes while they're out of town. Never post specifics about your vacation plans, your home address or when you'll be out of the house on social media sites.
8. Avoid Email Links to Social Media
Another popular hacker tactic is to email victims with messages that look like official messages from social media companies. Usually, these messages tell users they have a new message, a new post or they've been tagged in a photo. On clicking the link the user downloads malware. Always check URLs of email links. Instead of clicking, go directly to the social media site try to find the update mentioned in the message. If you can't find it, report the incident to your email provider and the social media site of which it claims to be associated.
9. Don't Share With Apps
There are plenty of social media apps — especially on Facebook — that ask for permission to access your data before allowing you to proceed. Most legitimate apps will let you skip this step. If you can't skip sharing, delete the app. Another concern with app sharing is geolocation. Apps like Foursquare will not only find your exact location, but also broadcast it to your public account. Avoid letting apps access geographical information.
10. Know it Can Happen to You
Perhaps the biggest mistake many people make on social media security is believing they won't be targeted. The truth is, anyone can be a victim. There were more than 82,000 malware threats every day in 2013. That trend has continued in 2015. It's vital to take social media security seriously and protect your online identity in every way. Take advantage of tools and strategies that prevent your personal information from being stolen. Enjoy social media, safely.