The infamous Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach has sparked an ongoing and much-needed debate about user privacy on social media. Given how many people are on social media today, and how easy it is for anyone to access the information stored on those accounts, it’s not surprising that they can prove to be a goldmine for hackers and malicious actors. We often don’t think about the things we share on social media as being a security risk, but if we aren’t careful, that’s exactly the case.
On the surface, much of what we share on social media sites and services seem to be innocuous and of little danger as far as our privacy or security is concerned. However, the most adamant cybercriminals in the business have learned how they can exploit social media sites and gain access to them to gather information.
Here’s a guide, to examine the security vulnerabilities of the most popular social media networks on the Internet. It provides precautionary guidelines that you should follow.
Facebook’s third-party apps: A hacker’s paradise
If you take cybersecurity seriously, you should consider deleting your Facebook altogether. Some of the revelations over the last few years show the extent to which Facebook has allowed its users’ data to be used. In many cases for purposes that directly oppose their best interests, the social media giant has made only vague promises about how it will protect its users’ data.
If you are going to use Facebook, you should assume that anything you post there can and will be seen by third-parties. That’s so because we now know that the data of Facebook users, whose friends have consented to share their data, can also be collected without their direct authorization.
One of the most common ways that Facebook is used for undermining users’ privacy is in the form of what seems like a fun game. These games consist of a name generator, in which users generate a pet name, a name of a celebrity, etc., by combining two words. These words are usually things like “mother’s maiden name” or “first pet’s name.” The more astute readers might recognize that such information is regularly used as answers to secret questions in case you forget your password. By posting that information on your Facebook account, you are potentially granting hackers the information they need to access your accounts elsewhere. As a rule of thumb, its best to grant as little access as possible for any Facebook app; a third-party app that asks for extensive privileges such as access to your real-time location, contact list, microphone, camera, email, etc., could prove to be a serious security liability.
Twitter: privacy as a binary choice
Twitter keeps things simple in regards to privacy. It’s nothing like Facebook, where you can micro-manage your settings. Instead, Twitter keeps it binary; things are either public or private. You also don’t have the opportunity to change this for individual tweets.
Whenever you use Twitter, ask yourself if you want other people to know where you are right now. Remember, if you are on holiday and your house is unattended, posting that information publically could put your property at risk.
You should also remember that any photos you upload with embedded GPS coordinates could be used to track you back physically. Twitter automatically strips away EXIF data, but it still reads that data to provide suggested locations. For complete security, remove the data before you upload any picture.
Finally, refrain from using third-party Twitter apps such as UberSocial, HootSuite, Tweetbot. If you’re going for maximum security, avoid using any at all!
Instagram: location, location, location
The whole idea behind Instagram is sharing of photos and videos. It’s true sharing your location is fun and even convenient, yet few users truly understand the implications of sharing such information. While it’s not a great idea to tell a random stranger on the street that you’re going out, the same concept applies to your posts and stories that indicate your current location.
Make sure to refrain from location tagging as much as possible. It’s also a good idea to remove any EXIF data before posting any photo. In fact, you should consider turning off your location data altogether.
Additionally, consider making your profile private. It’s a great feature that’s often overlooked. With this setting on, you’ll be able to review every single follower before they gain access to your content. Remember that if your profile remains public anyone can see your post and follow your stories, which in most instances highlights your daily activities. Giving that kind of information to total strangers online could have detrimental outcomes, to put it lightly.
Reddit: a privacy safe haven
Reddit is one of the best social media sites for anonymity. For one thing, you never have to share or disclose any personal information to register with Reddit. As long as you make sure never to share any personally identifiable information and you keep your location data turned off, it’s easy to use Reddit with complete anonymity.
Though Reddit’s track record is almost spotless when it comes to security and privacy, it’s essential to understand your account on this social media platform could still be compromised. That’s because your email address is directly linked to your Reddit account. Thus, if you want to protect your account from possible hacks, you must take precautionary steps to secure your email account as well. Remember – everything’s connected on the Internet.
VPN: a universal security tool
A virtual private network (VPN) will enhance your overall online privacy and security. When you use a VPN, even the website itself won’t be able to trace you; it will only know the location of the server you’re connected to, which you can choose. All the data that will be sent or received will be encrypted with a military-grade cipher.
In many cases, VPN providers offer further features to enhance privacy and security. As of now, quite a few VPN services can identify and blacklist potentially malicious ads, pop-ups, and websites. With the continuous updates of such databases, the feature will only get better. Additionally, DNS leak protection and automatic Kill Switches ensure that snoopers have virtually no chances of intercepting your connection in any imaginable way. Using a VPN is a no-brainer. If you still don’t have one, rest assured that it will be one of the best investments in regards to your online security and privacy.
Staying safe on social media won’t happen automatically, unfortunately, It takes effort. Make sure to check the settings available on each platform, and carefully consider what you are sharing. Never share anything so sensitive that, if it were accidentally exposed to all your followers, it would be a disaster. Besides optimizing your privacy settings, make use of all virtual security solutions such as VPN services and antimalware tools. Take these security measures and remain vigilant – that way you’ll remain safe on social media.
About the author
Harold Kilpatrick is a cybersecurity consultant and a freelance blogger. He’s currently working on a cybersecurity campaign to raise awareness around the threats that businesses can face online.