Now more than ever, Americans are spending increasing amounts of time on the Internet shopping, blogging and sharing their likes and dislikes, geographic location and possibly other intimate details that later could becoming embarrassing — at best — and dangerous at worst!
With every social media account you sign up for, every picture you post, and status you update, you are sharing information about yourself with social media companies — and the world.
How can you make sure you and your information stay safe online?
Beware of What You Post Online
No matter which social media platform you use, consider the type of information you choose to share with others. Here are the common cyber risks you may face when using social media:
Sharing sensitive information. Sensitive information includes anything that can help a person steal your identity or find you, such as your full name, Social Security number, address, birthdate, phone number, or where you were born.
Posting questionable content. Remember future employers may look at your social media accounts before hiring you. Questionable content can include pictures, videos, or opinions that may seem unprofessional or mean and can damage your reputation or future prospects.
Tracking your location. Many social media platforms allow you to check in and broadcast your location, or automatically adds your location to photos and posts.
Data privacy. Blogging can be a very personal activity, with bloggers sharing their opinions, daily activities and photos. Sharing these tidbits of personal information may seem harmless, but hackers and other malicious actors can use this information to gain access to your online accounts. People and companies can also take your photos for a variety of uses, including in advertisements or other social media profiles and blogs.
Harassment and threats. Unfortunately, not everyone is nice on the Internet. People, usually acting anonymously, can leave threatening or harassing comments and messages on blogs. Think twice about the information you are posting and be aware that putting information in the public domain may expose you to feedback from others who do not share your views.
1. Remember, there is no ‘Delete’ button on the Internet. Think before you post, because even if you delete a post or picture from your profile only seconds after posting it, chances are someone still saw it.
2. Don’t broadcast your location. Location or geo-tagging features on social networks is not the safest feature to activate. You could be telling a stalker exactly where to find you or telling a thief that you are not home.
3. Connect only with people you trust. While some social networks might seem safer for connecting because of the limited personal information shared through them, keep your connections to people you know and trust.
4. Keep certain things private from everyone. Certain information should be kept completely off your social networks to begin with. While it’s fun to have everyone wish you a happy birthday, or for long-lost friends to reconnect with you online, listing your date of birth with your full name and address gives potential identity thieves pertinent information. Other things to keep private include sensitive pictures or information about friends and family. Just because you think something is amusing does not mean you should share it with the world.
5. Speak up if you’re uncomfortable. If a friend posts something about you that makes you uncomfortable or you think is inappropriate, let him or her know. Likewise, stay open-minded if a friend approaches you because something you’ve posted makes him or her uncomfortable. People have different tolerances for how much the world knows about them, and it is important to respect those differences. Also report any instances of cyber bullying you see.
Tips for Bloggers
1. Keep it private. If you are blogging for fun and not trying to make a living, consider keeping your blog private so that only people you invite or approve can see what you post. Many blogging services allow you to control whether or not your blog is visible to the public or searchable on search engines.
2. Keep it anonymous. If you want to keep your blog public, consider blogging under a pseudonym. Do not share the real names of your family or friends. Do not share information that can help people find out where you live or work.
- Think about what photos you share and if these photos include people who have not consented to having their images shared online.
- Take special care when sharing photos of your children. Posting about your children makes it harder for them to control their digital lives and privacy as they get older. And information you post about them can be used by criminals to steal their identity. In 2012, 26 percent of identity theft victims were between the ages of six and ten, and identity theft has doubled in the past year for children age five and younger.
3. Control the comments. Some blogging platforms allow you to manage the comments section, allowing you to review and approve comments before they appear on your posts. This would prevent spam comments (often including malicious links) and harassing comments. Or you may be able to disable the comments feature entirely.
4. Protect your blog from hackers. The most effective way to do this is to set strong passwords that are long and unique. Use two-factor authentication whenever it is available. Also ensure your computer’s operating system, software, and anti-virus protections are updated.
5. Back up your data. Regularly back up your data to a hard drive or the cloud. This ensures your data is protected and available should a hacker or malware delete content from your machine or online.
6. Report suspicious or harassing activity. Work with your blogging service to report and possibly block harassing users. Report serious threats to law enforcement.
The Stop.Think.Connect. Campaign is a national public awareness campaign aimed at increasing cyber safety amongst Americans. Help the Campaign educate and empower the American public to take steps to protect themselves and their families online. To get involved, become a Friend of the Campaign by visiting www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.
For more information on the Stop.Think.Connect. Campaign, visit www.dhs.gov/.