Today, over 81 percent of the population in the United States is on social media, up from just 24 percent a decade ago. Out of those, more than half believe their data on social media platforms is very secure. Statistics like these are alarming because data on social media platforms are objectively far from secure, and there are many things social media users should do to improve their security.
Last year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) updated its password guidelines, which aim to become the foundation for best practice recommendations for the digital world. The new guidelines speak against arbitrary password complexity requirements and in favor of very long passwords consisting of somewhat randomly selected words.
Of course, passwords that consist of letters, numbers, and special characters are still just as secure as they’ve ever been, provided they’re long enough, but years of research have led NIST to believe that too much complexity often results in weaker passwords because of password reuse and other shortcuts that people turn to.
To keep your social media accounts safe and make it impossible for cybercriminals to brute force their way into them, never use the same password twice, and always pick a password that adheres to the latest password guidelines, whether from NIST or some other authority. If you have trouble keeping track of all your passwords, consider using a password manager.
The login page to your social media profile is like a bank vault door, protecting your personal information from cybercriminals. Typically, only one key is required to open this door, and that’s not enough. Virtually all social media sites give their users the option to activate two-factor authentication, which is akin to adding another lock to the vault door that is the login page.
Typically, the activation of two-factor authentication makes it so that the user is required to enter a numerical code send to him or her via SMS message. This extra authentication step prevents cybercriminals from getting past the login page even if they know the right password. Some social media sites use a special authenticator app, which removes the need to enter a numerical code while still providing an additional layer of security.
Clicking with Caution
According to a study on social media by the University of Phoenix, 70 percent of social media scams were manually shared. In other words, people voluntarily and unwittingly shared posts that linked to malicious or affiliate sites. Most people today know that clicking on random links on the web often doesn’t pay off. The trouble with social media sites is that people are more likely to click on links shared by their friends because of a psychological phenomenon known as social proof.
When browsing through your news feed, don’t just impulsively click on any link you stumble upon. Realize that your friends may be sharing malware without even knowing it. If you know that you won’t be able to resist the urge to click on something that looks interesting but could potentially be dangerous, at least use the incognito mode or, better yet, a virtual machine isolated from your main system.
Social media sites are all about sharing, but when you share too much information about yourself, you make it easier for cybercriminals to steal your identity or hack into your accounts. Realize that once you share something online, you can’t easily take it back. By the time you’ve deleted the piece of information; multiple people may have already created copies.
As a rule of thumb, never share your home address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, when you’re on vacation, and your expensive new purchases. It’s also highly recommendable to never rant or complain on social media. When angry, we often say things we later regret, but on social media they stay with us forever.
When you share something on social media, you give up a certain degree of control over your data. Using privacy settings, you can control who gets to see what you share, and how the social media site where you share the information can use it. Tweaking privacy settings is understandably not everyone’s favorite pastime, but it pays off to go through the process at least once to prevent your data from being used in ways you wouldn’t agree to if you knew about them.