Thursday, June 18, 2009

Social Networking Sites - Be Careful

Have you signed up on a social networking site? If you have, you've joined literally millions of others who are on FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter just to name a few. If you've signed up for any of these networks, you have probably wondered if there are security risks involved in participating in them. There risks associated with them and they are all related in one way or another.

First, the one common thread in all social networking sites is that you can associate (network) with friends and family, or work associates and share information with them. There is an inherent trust built in that if I allow you to be in my network, I trust you that it is really you and if you post anything, I'm assuming that it is you. Criminal hackers take advantage of this trust that is built in and if they can steal your login credentials to your account, they can pose as you and send all the friends in your network a message with a link that leads to a malicious web site. If successful, your friend's PC will have malicious code installed on their PC and this allows the criminal hacker to continue to take advantage of others as this process is repeated over and over with each friend who clicks on the malicious link.

Another risk of these social networking sites is what you actually post on these sites. One of the things you can do is share pictures with family and friends. You need to think twice before publishing certain pictures. One rule of thumb you should remember before you post anything on any web site is not to post anything that you don't want everyone to see. Even if you have posted a picture as "private", there have been instances in the past where the actual site you post pictures to has vulnerability in their systems which allowed "private" pictures to be stolen.

When you sign up for these sites, you can fill out a profile of personal information that you should limit what is available. For instance, you can add your birthday and you may choose to only put the month and day and drop the year of your birthday. Your birth date is one personally identifiable piece of information used in many things and you may want to exclude sharing the year of your birth. It is also a good idea not to post your phone number or your full address.

This one is specific to Twitter. First, what is Twitter? Twitter is a micro blogging system that allows you to share your status with anyone who follows you. These are called "tweets". These tweets are limited to 140 characters. Some folks who use Twitter like to share links to web sites that give you more information on a topic. Since links to web sites can be long, they use services that take a long web address, and shorten it. There are services like Tiny URL that do this. Criminal attackers have hacked high profile accounts that include CNN, the Obama campaign, and celebrities such as Brittney Spears. With control of these accounts, they can then abuse the trust issue mentioned earlier in this article and send out malicious links.

What can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few things.

  • Keep your home PC patched which includes Microsoft updates as well as Adobe, QuickTime, and iTunes, just to mention a few.
  • Think twice before posting any picture. A good rule of thumb is not to post anything that you wouldn't want everyone to see.
  • Limit what information you share in the profile section of social networking sites.
  • Trust no one. If a friend sends you a link, treat it like you have been trained with phishing e-mails. Don't click on unsolicited links.

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