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Safe social networking for 2008

Global Secure Systems (GSS) : 03 January, 2008  (Technical Article)
David Hobson, security expert and MD of Global Secure Systems gives some essential tips for staying safe on social network sites in the new year.
British adults are more frequent users of social networking sites than any of their European counterparts, figures from Ofcom, the communications regulator, indicated this week.

People seem obsessed with these sites with four in ten Britons now using their internet connection to keep in touch with their friends on networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. The figure compares with 17 per cent in France, 12 per cent in Germany and 22 per cent in Italy.

However, it would seem that most people throw all caution to the wind when they use these sites and forget that what they post onto these sites can be accessed by anyone and everyone, not just their friends. Infact in a recent survey conducted by The Information Commissioner's Office amongst 2000 17 to 25 year olds found 60% posted their date of birth, a quarter put their job title and almost one in 10 gave their home address and two thirds accepted people on such websites as "friends" who they did not even know.

Over the Christmas and New Year, access to social networking sites spiked higher than ever before, but what are the rules to keeping safe and secure on these sites in 2008. You don't want to give too much away and find that you end up with people stealing your identity or your bosses finding out your inner most secrets. The first rule to remember is that there is a very real security threat associated with social networking. The US Government has recently put out an official warning on their Computer Emergency Readiness Team web site to stress the security pitfalls of these sites which shows they feel there is a very real risk to social networking!

So here are some good housekeeping rules for playing safe on your social networking site in 2008:.

* For anyone setting up a page on a Facebook, Bebo or even LinkedIn needs to think about who is going to be looking at that page, would you mind your boss, parents, recruiters, neighbours and friends of friends seeing what you've posted?. The idea that it will be just your best mates is naïve at best! So remember nothing is personal! Everything you post is there for the rest of the world to see! Do not post anything on a site that you would not tell a stranger.

* The Privacy settings should control the amount of information people can see about you. On some sites these are automatically set at the most private level but on others all your information can be seen by other people unless you specify otherwise. Set the privacy level as strictly as you can.

* Keep your passwords safe and don't tell them to anyone, change them often and always mix them up using letters and digits, definitely don't choose a password that is based on any personal details you've given away on a social networking site.

* Never meet anyone you've met in Cyber Space on your own, make sure you take someone with you if you do decide to meet them.

* Be very careful how much personal information you give away. There is lots of press about identity theft, and it is a very real problem. So do not give out the sorts of information that someone could use to steal your ID such as full birth date, full name or mother's maiden name, your pets name etc. Remember, banks and such organisations rely upon some simple things to help prove your identity and it's exactly this sort of information that thieves will use to start to collect on you, so don't give this personal information away even on a a blog, chatroom etc.

* Be careful what applications you download off the Internet and social networking sites. Many of these contain bugs, malware and are not developed by bona fide developers. These unauthorised programmes often capture your data from your profile as a means of building up information on you and can be almost impossible to remove.

* Don't trust what other people post about themselves. It is very simple to lie about yourself. Even one of the restaurants on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmare's confessed to posting false reviews about themselves on line! Not very subtle.

* Check the site's privacy policy. Do not assume they will give you any warranty as to the security of the data on their site. Some sites go further and actually republish your information.

* Remember - once you have posted information on any site, you have lost control and "ownership" of that data. Whilst you may make changes to the web site you are logged into, data gets cached all over the Internet.

* The data once posted "belongs" to the web site. Not you. Whilst all reputable sites will publish a security and privacy policy, they all retain the right to change that policy at their discretion. If they "lose" that data - say they upgrade their servers and do not clear old hard drives which contain your details, what can you do? Nothing!

* Spammers will try and harvest any information they can from these sites.

The major sites are here not really to make people's life better and enhance communication. They are valued at billions of dollars. They are worth more than some major businesses that employ thousands of people, that produce goods, real goods. Why do these sites get such massive valuations? Because they hold data about their users. Personal data. Data that can be sold on to marketeers who will try and sell you something. And there is a school of thought that says, "well, actually, if marketeers know what I like and only try and sell me something I am interested in, then that has to be a good thing. I will not get hit by marketing for products of no interest to me!" An interesting argument!.
So to sum up - only publish what you want the WHOLE WORLD to know about you. Be very wary of people you meet in Cyber Space - it is not real life, go have a great time on line, just make it time that is safe and not too personal, or time you're wasting when you should be working!
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