March 11, 2015
By Stephanie Kent
Investigative Research Assistant
Social networking websites have not only revolutionized social connectedness, but they have generated a powerful new means of advertising and marketing for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Although it may sound like the ideal medium through which to connect with old friends or engage masses of new customers, social media may be the single thing that will cost you your identity, wealth, business and reputation. Like anything that appears ‘too good to be true,’ social media can have irreversible negative consequences if users do not take the appropriate precautions. The number of con-artists, cybercriminals, and other fraudulent actors who exploit online social networks for iniquitous purposes continues to increase rapidly.
In December, 2013, security experts discovered a cache of approximately 2 million pilfered passwords to popular social media websites. Hackers across the globe had stolen usernames, passwords and credentials through 326,000+ Facebook accounts; ~60,000 Google accounts; 59,000+ Yahoo accounts and ~22,000 Twitter accounts.¹ Today, more than 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised daily (that’s ~219 million jeopardized Facebook accounts a year)!²
According to the FBI, cybercriminals who exploit social networks can typically be divided into two tactical groups.³ The first employs computer savvy hackers who are well-practiced in writing and altering computer code to gain access or install undesired software on your device. The second group uses “social engineers” who exploit personal relations through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. These hackers use the World Wide Web to gather information about a person through his or her history of statuses, photos, comments, tweets, online interactions, and other personal information they’ve posted. With this abundance of intimate knowledge about the victim, social engineers know exactly how to assume the target’s identity and manipulate people into getting through all types of security walls. They frame their stories as to appear totally harmless and legitimate, and with the help of human naivety, they often succeed. Falling for this type of seemingly harmless social media scam could be extremely damaging not only for a personal victim, but also for the organization that employs that victim.
To avoid becoming an easy target of social media cyber crime, refer to the simple steps listed below.
How to Better Protect Yourself on Social Media:
1. Create a Strong Password for Every Account
Although hackers may seem like masterminds, nearly 16,000 of the compromised Facebook accounts mentioned above used the same simple password, ‘123456’! These users may as well have gone on vacation, left the house key on the doorstep, and put their passport, wallet, and birth certificate inside the door! Make your password at least 10 digits long, with a combination of various numbers, symbols and letters (include capitals and lower-case). Avoid using the same password for multiple websites because once your universal password is decrypted, every account you own is easily accessible to the hacker.
2. Change Your Facebook Settings to “Friends Only”
View your privacy settings on your Facebook account. Make sure your default privacy setting is not set to public (along with posts and photos you publish on your wall). If you have set it to “Custom,” be sure you are aware and comfortable with any “Networks” with which you’re sharing data.
3. Be VERY Wary of Who You Add as a Friend or Contact on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
Many accounts are created under false pretenses in order to gain your information upon your acceptance of the friend invite. If the person inviting you to connect via social media has very few friends or connections, or has published limited information about him or herself, exercise caution! This is probably not someone you know. Even if the person shows one or two mutual friends, ask those friends of yours how they know this person before accepting the individual as your own friend. Remember, social engineers are very clever and will use whatever photos, info and aliases they can to access your profile publicly. Never add people to your social media that you do not surely know and trust with ALL of your posted information!
4. Avoid Posting Personal Information on All Social Media Venues
It is important to note that once something is posted to any social networking website, it is no longer private. Even when you enable the highest security settings on your accounts, your information can certainly be leaked on the Internet! It’s true that the “friends only” setting will help protect you, but the more information you post to social media, the more likely you are to become a target for hackers. The more info you share online, the easier it is for hackers to impersonate you and deceive your contacts into sharing their own information, downloading malware, or providing access to restricted sites, thus feeding the vicious cycle of cyber crime! Avoid posting your personal phone number, birthday, address and email on Facebook. Your Facebook contacts can always send Facebook messages to contact you privately, and if you are close enough to be Facebook “friends” they would most likely have your other personal info anyway.
5. Avoid Dropping Pins with Your Device’s GPS on Social Media
Allowing people to pinpoint exactly where you are in the world at a specific time is not the wisest idea when trying to stay safe from criminal activity (whether cyber or not)! You may as well post a sign on your front door saying “At the international airport, going to be in Europe for two weeks… make yourselves at home!” Just don’t do it. Either privately inform your friends about the upcoming trip, or wait until you have returned to post about it.
6. Password Protect All of Your Devices
Yes, folks, that means your Macs, your PCs, your tablets, your iPads, your iPhones, your Androids, your iPods, your Blackberrys, and every other device under the sun that connects to Wi-Fi! Not only password protect them, but get those creative juices flowing beyond ‘123456.’
7. Put a Google Alert on Your Name4
This is a very easy way to be aware of what’s being posted about you online. It takes under a minute to do. Go here: https://www.google.com/alerts and enter your name and variations of your name with quotation marks around it. Finished!
8. Log Out Of Your Online Accounts When You’re Finished Using Them
Not only does this help reduce the chances of being tracked as you surf the Web, it prevents the next person who uses that computer from loading one of your accounts and snooping. This is especially important when using a public computer. Remember, ‘x’ing out of a page does not mean you are logging out! People often forget this and suffer the horrible consequences of personal invasion.
9. Turn On 2-step Authentication in Gmail
One small step for a Gmail man, one giant leap for his Gmail security! 2-step authentication requires that you enter a code (that’s sent to your phone) each time you attempt to access your account from a new device. Therefore, even if the malicious type decodes your password, they won’t be able to sign into your account from an unauthorized device.
If you believe that either you or your organization has been victimized by cyber-criminal behavior, contact Jennings Smith Associates toll-free today at 866-629-3757 for a free consultation, or visit us online at www.jsainvestigations.com. All inquiries are strictly confidential.