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Keep What's Private, Private

April 15, 2019

Last month we talked about how cyber attackers can target you using information they find on public websites.

But what about social networking sites, where you choose what you reveal about yourself online? Social media encourages you to post all the details about your life: your interests, location, habits, friends and family.

Attackers can use this information for nefarious purposes.

How Do I Protect My Information?

Although there are no guaranteed ways to keep your online information secure, here are some tips to help keep your private information private:

  • Don’t post personal or private information online! The easiest way to keep your information private is to not post it. Don’t post your full birthdate, address or phone numbers online. This information can be used to steal your identity. Ask friends to remove embarrassing or sensitive information about you from their posts.
  • Use privacy settings. Most social networking sites provide settings that let you restrict public access to your profile, such as allowing only your friends to view it. (Of course, this works only if you allow people you actually know to see your posts — if you have 10,000 “friends,” your privacy won’t be very well protected.)
  • Review privacy settings regularly. Review your privacy settings for each social networking site. They change over time, and you may find that you’ve unknowingly exposed information you intended to keep private.
  • Be wary of others. Many social networking sites do not have a rigorous process to verify the identity of their users. Always be cautious when dealing with unfamiliar people online. You might receive a friend request from someone masquerading as a friend. Here’s a cool hint: If you use Google Chrome, right-click on the photo in the friend request and choose Google image search. If you find that there are multiple accounts using the same image, all but one is probably fake.
  • Search for yourself. Do you know what information is readily available about you online? Find out what other people can easily access by doing a search. Also, set up an automatic search alert to notify you when your name appears online. (You may want to set Google alerts for your nicknames, phone numbers and addresses as well.)
  • Understand the role of hashtags. Hashtags (#) are a popular way to provide clever commentary or to tag specific pictures. On some sites (like Instagram), if you add a hashtag to a post, anyone who searches that tag can see your post, even if it’s private.

Will My Information Be Available Forever?

Maybe not forever, but it will stay online for longer than you think.

  • Before posting anything online, remember the maxim “once online, always online.” Information on the Internet is public and available for anyone to see, and security is never perfect. Browser caching and server backups make it likely that what you post will never truly disappear. Furthermore, anyone who sees your post could save it, screenshot it, or share it for years to come. So be safe, and think twice about anything you post online.
  • Share only the information you are comfortable sharing. Don’t supply information that isn’t required. Remember: It's up to you to protect your information and stay safe online. No one will do it for you.