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9 Ways to Control Your Privacy on Social Network Sites

As more and more people turn to the Internet to communicate and share with others on popular networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, cyber criminals are taking note, delivering new ploys through these channels — and it's becoming increasingly difficult to navigate the Web safely, securely, and privately. For most of us, giving up the social sites we love is not an option. So, what's needed to stay secure? Educating yourself on your safety options and being vigilant about taking precautions are critical. Read on to find out the top ways you can restore or maintain your privacy on social networking sites.

  1. Use strong passwords and take care when answering security questions. Create complex passwords that are at least 10 characters long by mixing letters, symbols and numbers (don't just use words that can be found in a dictionary). You'll also want to avoid reusing the same passwords for different sites — if the password is breached or cracked, the cyber criminal would then have access to all of your accounts.

    When creating passwords, think about the information that you have available about yourself online (a pet's name, your place of birth, etc); make sure that you do not include obvious references like these as part of your password. You should also keep from including this kind of personal information about yourself when answering security questions on websites; most of these questionnaires are only used by the site to help identify you and allow you to regain access to your rightful account. Revealing the correct facts (like you mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your social security number) is not necessary... Just make sure to remember what information you entered!
  2. Tweak your account settings, and use advanced privacy options. An imperative first step as soon as you sign up to a networking site is to check the privacy options available to you, and use any advanced settings offered. For example, PC World recently ran an article on the five essential Facebook privacy settings you need to review and tweak in order to keep your private information secure. According to the article, without taking the precaution of adjusting your privacy settings, when you visit partner sites, they're able to obtain information from your Facebook account, including your name, profile photo, and information on your interests. Take a look at the list on PC World to learn more and find out how to change your privacy settings.
  3. Have a clear understanding of what sensitive information is — and don't share it. Always remember, once shared online, your information is no longer private. Before posting any personal information, think about how much data you want available about yourself online. Even facts that may seem mundane to you at first glance can be valuable to scammers, who are able to mine information, and connect the bits of personal data you make available. This can be used for a variety of scams and even identity theft.

    In order to limit the amount of potentially sensitive information about yourself — and to limit your susceptibility to theft or abuse — reconsider publically posting the following:
    • Your full name
    • Your full date of birth
    • The names of your children or family member
    • Your full home address
    • Dates and details of trips, vacations and time spent away from home
  4. Be careful what you click. “Don't click on unsolicited messages.” You've heard that security mantra applied to e-mail, but it pertains to social networking sites as well. Always take care with surveys, giveaways, and other types of special offers that seem too good to be true. A popular trend that researchers are currently seeing on social networking sites is the proliferation of fake gift card pages and scams — where scammers attempt to fool victims into believing they can qualify for a gift card (basically free cash) in exchange for becoming a fan of a certain page, and often clicking on a link and submitting personal information. (Read the “Bad Behavior” article in this month's Lavasoft News to learn more).
  5. Don't friend, follow, or otherwise connect with strangers. It's a good rule of thumb is to only connect and share with people that you know in real life. By 'friending' people online that are strangers, you open yourself up to added privacy and security risks. According to a study from Cloudmark, nearly 40 percent of new Facebook profiles are fake, created by malware writers and spammers.
  6. Limit your use of applications and extras (like games and quizzes). You have the ability to download and install third-party applications and various extras that work with the social networking sites you use. This can be done to add fun or functionality to your networking experience, such as playing games or personalizing your page. Software applications that are available for download to run on the site may not undergo any type of security approval, verification, or review. These applications can potentially be leveraged by cyber thieves to compromise your information. What's more, you may be handing over private information in your profile to the applications developers when you install the new app, even if you use privacy settings.
  7. Monitor your kids. Networking sites can potentially open up children and young adults to many unfavorable aspects of the Internet — including bullying, online predators, and cyber scams. Make sure to prepare kids with information that can help them to make safe decisions, and to have an open dialogue about safe and appropriate web use.

    A new study recently showed that 48 percent of parents add their children as friends on Facebook, admitting it can be awkward at times, but they are able to learn a lot about their kids. Whether or not you go this route, know that supervising youngsters as they use the Web is a must in order to keep them — and your private information — safe. “We don't teach children to drive by giving them the keys to the car and expecting them to be 'self-taught.' Similarly, we shouldn't let them sit down at the computer and surf away without training and supervision,” according to
  8. Have basic security software in place and keep it up-to-date. Preparing your PC with anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall (and making sure the software is always up-to-date) is critical in keeping safe from malware and online scams. For trusted security solutions from Lavasoft, check the Lavasoft website at Also make sure that your computer is up-to-date with the latest security patches. (Read the May issue of Lavasoft News to learn more about the importance of updating.)
  9. Keep up with the latest scams and social engineering trends. This is easier said than done, but a little caution and awareness can go a long way in making sure you don't fall for online ploys, which are becoming increasingly targeted and believable. Here at Lavasoft, we have a number of resources available for you to turn to in order to make the process quicker and easier: read easy-to-understand safety tips in the Lavasoft Security Center, check the Lavasoft company blog and Malware Labs blog for your daily dose of security news, and follow Lavasoft on Facebook or Twitter to stay up-to-date on online issues.
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According to a recent survey, about 25% of households with a Facebook account don't use the site's privacy controls or were not aware of them. About 40% of social network users posted their full date of birth online, opening themselves up to identity theft.
Source: Consumer Reports' State of the Net 2010
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