Wellness Matters

Are You Staying Safe Online: 4 Things to Consider Before You Post

May 17, 2016

Social networking using online social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have become a common way to communicate. Social media can be used to foster personal relationships, stay up-to-date on news and express viewpoints in a public forum. Yet we repeatedly read stories about people who have had their identities stolen, homes broken into or have been bullied because of information from social media. What you choose to share may seem harmless, but could present you with unforeseen dangers. Here are a few of the trouble spots that you should try to avoid when using social media.
  1. Oversharing – Each social media platform requires the user to provide an email address and profile information. We are asked to let the world know our birthday, our maiden or middle name or our phone number. If your account is not set up with the correct privacy settings or is hacked, you are freely offering up information that can be used for identity theft. One common security question for logging into online banking is “what is your mother’s maiden name?” Have you recently posted a happy birthday wish to your mom and tagged her in the status update in which her maiden name is revealed? Make sure your profile is set up to limit the sensitive information people see.
  2. Links – Many hackers use social media to inject malicious code or “malware” into users’ computers or devices. Once that code is injected, the hacker can then withdraw any information they choose, such as passwords, financial information or work-related information. In most cases, hackers will post a link with an enticing headline and interesting picture. Once the link is clicked, the malware is downloaded. Typically, the malware then shares the post on your social media feed so that others, thinking you recommended it, will click the link and become infected. These posts are often referred to as “click-bait” because their sole purpose is to get social media users to click a link that takes them off of the social media site. To help prevent clicking on malicious links, hover over them first with your cursor and verify the web address looks like the web address you intend to go to.
  3. Revealing your location – Did you know that every time you post to social media, you are likely revealing your exact location? Unless you manually turn off a social media platform’s location service, or geotagging, it’s going to share where the post was uploaded. Were you at the beach all week sharing photos? Everyone who sees your post will know the name of the beach without you revealing it. Were you out for a night on the town, checked in at a restaurant and posted a selfie? We all now know your exact whereabouts. You are unknowingly telling the world that your house (many pictures of which are likely in your photo library) may be unoccupied. Also, you are revealing your current location, should anyone you may not want to see care to come find you.
  4. Desensitization – We all have opinions, political views or religious beliefs. Part of what makes us human is our need to be acknowledged. What makes social media “social” is the opportunity for others to respond to our posts, pictures and updates. Often these responses can be cruel, unkind or lead to bullying. One of the biggest changes that social media has given us is a lack of accountability for our words. When we communicate face-to-face, we get immediate feedback from the person we are talking to by how they react. We can see if they have been angered or hurt by our words. When we communicate online, we can’t always see how our language affects others. We have become accustomed to not having face-to-face discussions. This has led to the use of harsh and spiteful language with people we hardly know.

Staying safe online is a continuous learning process. Criminals repeatedly come up with creative ways to get your information. Many people do get carried away with sharing personal details of their lives. Let common sense prevail and avoid posting certain information. This includes:
  • Passwords
  • Full home or work addresses
  • Full birthdates
  • Full family members’ names
  • Children’s names, schools and birthdates
  • Your workplace
  • Your daily schedule
  • Travel plans
  • Bank account information
  • Social plans (in advance) 
Even with the highest privacy settings in place across your social media pages, you are still able to willingly share sensitive information. This is when you should use your best judgment. When you make good decisions about what you share, social media can be a fun and useful tool.

About the Author

Steve Horsley is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer
for Cone Health


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