Digital theft is on the agenda to stay. Whether they be fraudulent bank transactions or full-scale identity theft, cybercrimes are a reality that Internet users seemingly have still failed to internalize. Not being conscious of the danger that publicly sharing all sorts of apparently innocuous personal details usually results in big messes. Think of your level of vulnerability like this: if Obama himself managed to hack into your social networking profiles, imagine what a malicious internet browser with half a brain could do with your info.
Social networks are at the heart of the problem, not only because of their own idiosyncrasies but also given the terrible usage habits of many users. Have a look at your Facebook feed and you will certainly see a friend or family member that can’t stop posting photos of the places he visits or of publishing content related to his hobbies. Somebody who has no idea of the damage that can be done by social engineering—that is, collecting personal data from a user that might compromise his or her security.
Offense #1: Passwords related to your private details
Let me guess: your password is your wedding date, your pet’s name, or your initials followed by your birthdate. Don’t be shocked, I’m no psychic—I’ve just read some of those IT security studies. In fact, there are rankings out there with the most frequently used passwords in the world that make very clear how easy it is to break into another person’s account by doing just a little bit of digging. It might be hard to believe, but a huge percentage of users still use email passwords such as “1234.” Now that is living dangerously.
If you’re very active on social networks, it’s more than likely that at some point during the past year you’ve mentioned your family, your pets, or events relevant to your life. Now imagine that without realizing it you’ve added a stranger to your network that has been reading all this info the whole time and tries to break into your personal accounts using some of those details. Don’t forget that one of the maxims of social engineering is that a network’s users are its weakest leak.
Offense #2: Talking about your daily routines
Another subcategory of digital exhibitionism pertains to those Instagram and Foursquare crazed users who share and elaborate upon in meticulous detail every single place they visit. This is like putting a billboard up in the street with your address and a note that says, “Hey, everybody! I’m going on vacation in Norway for two weeks and my house is going to be empty and unprotected the entire time!” There are actual gangs out there that break into homes using information compiled on the web. That is a reality.
Let’s take this one step further. If you publish your everyday habits, such as your working hours or the places you like to frequent, you’re laying out in the open your daily routines, leaving not just your privacy but your own personal affairs open for all the world to see. And whether we’re talking about the technological sphere or not, that is something that could get you into a real fix.
How to control your privacy on social networks
With all that said, networks like Facebook offer a huge depth of functionality when it comes to customizing the level of privacy of your posts. We’ve already spent a lot of time in this space talking about the options for limiting what appears on your wall and whom it appears to, although there are increasingly more obstacles when it comes to going “unnoticed” (if any like that is even possible) on the social network. In fact, recently the option has disappeared to hide your profile from search results, meaning that you need to manage your content even more meticulously than ever.
The same can be said of Twitter. It’s a good idea to make your account private within your configuration options so that your posts aren’t indexed on Google and no one can sniff around your tweets without your permission. In the end it all boils down to being more aware of all these things and taking care rather than limiting your activity.
There’s a real world out there
This is the most obvious thing, but also perhaps the most complicated. The Internet offers a window to a new model of social interaction that is inevitably displacing actual, in-the-flesh interactions in favor of a decentralized, impersonal, and to some extent downright cheeky form of communication. This can’t really be helped, but you can raise awareness among the next generation of Internet users about the dangers of the practices mentioned above when, for instance, they’re talking with the shady dude in the trench coat who hands out candy on the school playground.
Even though social networks have completely saturated our society, it hasn’t even been a decade since we started using these massive services. We’re talking about a technology still in its adolescence and still evolving, which—just like in the cases of other technological advances—needs a period of adaptation to be used coherently and responsibly to avoid dangers like those outlined above. In effect, it appears that beyond guides and tutorials, the really complicated thing is applying a little bit of common sense.
Do you want to see a good example of what this irresponsibility entails? Watch Disconnect. This film about the growing distance between humans because of new technologies shows the terrible consequences of using these communication tools inappropriately.