New Year’s Resolution: Smart Social Networking

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“You’ve been hijacked!”

That isn’t a phrase you’d expect to hear too often, but a growing number of social network members would disagree. Welcome to the “dark side” of social networking — where, unbeknownst to you, prowlers lurk in the shadows waiting with baited breath for you to slip up. If your online security is compromised just once, it could be hard to stop the snowball effect, which wreaks havoc on dozens, if not hundreds, of your online “friends.” After all, when one account is hacked, it’s easier for the cybercriminal to gain access to that individual’s social contacts.

Recently, a highly ranked employee at an IT security company told CNN : “We are on the verge from shifting from the Web being the No. 1 victim of infecting to social network[s].” The CNN article also highlights an Indiana University study conducted a few years ago that shows about 70 percent of phishing attempts on social networks actually work.

So why have social networking sites become such a hotbed for cyber fiends? Apparently, those with deceitful motives see this as a very lucrative opportunity.

For starters, the FBI has said that such Web sites “provide a gold mine of personal information” — not surprising, since we often fill our profiles with details that we may not realize are sensitive. For example, pets’ names, mothers’ maiden names, birthdays and home addresses oftentimes serve as clues for criminals to decode passwords and hack in.

In one case, a seemingly innocent Twitter message actually led to a physical robbery when an Arizona man tweeted that he was going on vacation, inadvertently tipping off burglars that his home would be unattended.

Then there’s the classic “help me” trick, in which a cyber thief hacks into an account, poses as that individual and messages his contacts saying he is stranded in a foreign country without a passport and needs money to make it back safely.

In addition to swindling people out of their possessions, some cyber pranksters aim to redirect social networking members to Web sites of their choice, where more eyeballs equals more moolah.

Then there are those instances that are just plain strange — like the time a group calling itself “Control Your Info” hijacked nearly 300 Facebook groups within a matter of days and claimed pure motives. When members of the affected groups woke up one morning and went to check their updates, they were subjected to the following flashing message: “We hereby announce that we have officially hijacked your Facebook group.”

According to a CNN article , the members of “Control Your Info” were trying to illustrate what they saw as flaws in Facebook’s administration. As noble as that may sound, is the best way to do it really to hijack hundreds of vibrant, fully-functioning groups?

These examples reiterate the need for us to be on high alert online — especially when we’re in informal environments such as social networks, as we often tend to let our guards down. So, perhaps one of your New Year’s resolutions could be centered on reacquainting yourself with the necessary tools and precautions that could help you elude a spate of online attacks. It’ll spare you unnecessary pain in the long run — and you don’t need a gym membership to get started.

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Deanna Hartley


Posted in Opinion|