Online security

28 April 2016

Social media: how can you protect your data?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.: social media are everywhere. They make it possible for us to talk and share content with people across the globe, but how can we be sure that our personal data is safe when we use these networks? We’d like to share eight tips you can use to manage risks to data privacy.

What are the risks to your personal data?

Your accounts on social media contain some of your personal information, for example your name, age and profession. In this context, it is important to know that making such information available entails certain risks.

Think of your career prospects

When you apply for a job, the first thing certain companies do is carry out a search on social media to see what your name brings up. The same applies for some universities, who do this kind of search when processing admissions requests for new students. Here, if you have posted pictures of yourself after one drink too many, or made embarrassing remarks, it could work against you when you apply.

If you already have a job, be careful about what you post regarding your employer. This information can be used to your company’s detriment by cybercriminals and, on top of this, your posts can harm your employer’s reputation. So before publishing anything on social media regarding your job, make certain to check your company’s confidentiality policy first.

Protect your privacy

Cybercriminals can use the information you publish against you. For example, by analysing your publications and personal data it is possible that they could:

  • use your information to guess your passwords or the answers to your “secret questions” that allow you to reinitialise these passwords;
  • set up targeted attacks, referred to as spearfishing;
  • call someone at your company while posing as you so as to obtain confidential information;
  • determine where you work and live.

In light of this, be careful about what you publish.

Eight tips to protect yourself

It isn’t incredibly difficult to protect yourself or your own data when you are on social media. Below are eight tips you can use to ensure your own peace of mind when online.

1. Protect your connection

It is essential to use a strong and unique password to connect to social media sites. Of course, it goes without saying that you must not share any password with anyone else. On top of this, quite a few sites also offer strong authentication, for example in the form of two-stage identity verification. This is another good way to protect your data, so activate this option as soon as possible.

2. Check your privacy settings

The privacy settings on social media sites change often, without you even realising it, so it’s important to stay aware of any such modifications. To do this, check and test your settings regularly.

3. Look for the HTTPS protocol indication in the site’s URL

The HTTPS protocol enables the encryption of your connection to a social media site. Basically, this means that the data transferred between your device and the Twitter or Facebook server is encrypted and so cannot be intercepted and read by a third party. Just about all the social media sites now use the HTTPS protocol, but you should always check to make sure it’s being used by the websites you visit.

4. Beware of certain emails

When you have an account with a social media site you will occasionally receive emails from that site. You need to be careful here, because such messages can easily be forged by cybercriminals. The best way to avoid this risk is to reply directly via the site once you have signed in.

5. Be careful about certain publications

You may find one day that one of your friends has published a message that seems a bit strange. It may be poorly written, full of spelling mistakes, look different from what your friend usually publishes and you may find it under several different profiles. When this happens you can be sure that the message is not genuine. A good way to check if such a message really was sent by one of your friends is to call him or her.

6. Watch out when using mobile apps

Most social media sites offer apps that let you access your accounts with your smartphone or tablet. Make sure that you only download these apps from a reputable site, and of course protect your smartphone or tablet with a strong password.

7. Avoid using public computers

You never know who has been using the computers at the internet café or the library, and they may have been infected by a virus or malware, whether deliberately or not. As much as possible, only use devices which you control and trust when you connect to social media sites.

8. Keep an eye on what’s in your publications and those of your friends

Finally, the best way to protect yourself is to limit the type of information you publish and to be aware of what your friends are publishing about you. Disclose as little personal and professional information as possible, and if you are uncomfortable about what a friend has published about you then ask him or her to take it down.