<Charles Trentham is a diehard tech blogger who loves to write about software, technology, and future science. After retiring from a small telecom startup after the bubble burst, he’s been blogging full time, including some freelance work on such topics as mobile security software in order to feed his tech habits. He enjoys spending time with his family and Kelpie named Elaine.
As of October 4, 2012, Facebook reported having over a billion active users. With all these people connecting and sharing personal information, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from hackers and spammers. Here, I’ll discuss several tips and suggestions to keep your information and accounts safe.
Arm your Device
The best thing you can do to protect sensitive information on your computer of social networking site is to invest in anti-virus software for your computer and mobile device, through well-known brands such as Trend Micro. These days you can even get software specifically for your mobile device, for example this particular example (left) which runs off the Android platform – it detects and protects phones from malicious websites, apps, even text messages.
Not only will you be protecting yourself from hackers with software like this, but you will also be protecting your contact’s information; some viruses steal contact lists and spread the malware to all your friends.
When it comes to hacking your account, this is the first thing that is tampered with. Unfortunately, most cyber-criminals get away with it because of one crucial mistake made by users: inadequate passwords. If you believe you’re secure with a password like “1234,” “password,” or “qwerty,” think again. These are within the top five most common passwords; hackers will try them all and more often than not they’ll get a hit. What should you do?
- Create a strong password: the best contain capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. To check the strength of your password check out http://www.passwordmeter.com
- Try not to use anything that can be found in the dictionary.
- Use a different password for every site; use variations of the same password to make them easier to remember.
- Never, ever have a list of your passwords anywhere on your computer or mobile device.
- Finally, change your passwords often.
Manage Security Settings
Sites like Facebook and Twitter are making it very easy for users to protect valuable information. Unfortunately, many users disregard the security features available to them. Here are a few important settings to change on Facebook:
- Secure browsing: enabling this ensures you are browsing via a secure connection (https).
- Login notifications: FB will send you a notification every time your account is accessed.
- Login Approvals: security codes are needed to access your account from an unfamiliar device.
- App passwords: one-time passwords sent to you to log in to your apps. This keeps your FB password safe when you link your apps to your Facebook account.
- Active sessions: This feature allows you to monitor what devices have accessed your account.
- Tweet Privacy: When this option is clicked, only those who you have approved will be able to see your tweets.
- Password reset: This requires personal information like a phone number or email to reset a password.
One thing that applies to all accounts: disabling the location feature. The history of your location is enough for spam to infiltrate your account. Keep in mind that this type of spam will most likely not compromise your device.
With thousands of applications and files shared daily, it’s important to make sure that you’re downloading from a reputable site or person. However, you may be receiving messages and emails from a “friend” whose account has been hacked. So, it’s important to always trust your gut; if the message or file seems strange, chances are it is spam. This warning also applies to apps. You should especially watch out for apps that require access to your account. You should take inventory of your apps regularly, deleting those that you hardly use or don’t seem legitimate.
Watch where you surf
Wi-Fi hotspots are particularly dangerous places to access your social media accounts. Hackers can easily retrieve information from your accounts by tapping into the unsecured network.
If you are using a computer in a public place like a library or school computer lab, it is crucial to log out of every application you use and remember to enable the “secure browsing” feature.
Many times you will see links with captions like “Justin Bieber Stabbed by Fan.” These are almost always false statements made to peak your interest and get you to click. The bad thing about these malicious links is that as soon as you click, the damage is done. In most cases, when you click the link it automatically begins downloading onto your computer deleting anti-virus software, making your computer vulnerable to all other attacks.
What can you do to protect yourself against bad links? Unfortunately, nothing. The trouble with links is that they spread via your “friends” hacked profiles. So what you perceive as a friend sending you the link to a funny cat video could potentially be a dangerous virus—or a funny video of a cat. You just never know. Here are some examples of what bad links may say.
- “I’m stranded, need money” – some hackers will pose as users stranded in a foreign country, and ask for money to get back home.
- “See who views your profile” – These links are popular because many users of social networking sites are interested in who sees their profiles. I know it’s tempting, but don’t click it.
- “Get this for free” – Offers for free merchandise are tricky and will usually lead to spam.
- “(Insert celebrity) did (something ridiculous)” – These links get a lot of action because many people are interested in the lives of celebrities, at the expense of their accounts security.
Twitter users should be especially weary of short links. These versions of URLs can evade anti-virus software. A simple fix is to copy the link and paste it onto a site like www.checkshorturl.com. Also, try not to re-tweet anything that you have not verified.
There you have it, several tips to keep you protected from hackers and spammers who make a living from annoying you and penetrating your accounts. Above all else, make sure to use common sense and trust your instincts. It’s time to be more aware of how we interact with each other and how we secure our information.
One last thing, if you think you have been a victim of malicious spam or have been hacked, report it to the “help centre” of the respective site. This helps professionals block further attacks, and develop better software.