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Why social networks draw scams (and how to avoid them)

William Pelgrin | June 24, 2013
The popularity and influence of social media continues to increase at lightning speed, and that makes them fertile ground for scams and hoaxes. Here's how to recognize, avoid, and prevent them.

3. What's the most popular post this week? Malware!
Social media serves as a prime vector for malware distribution. The 2013 Symantec Internet Security Threat Report notes that 43 percent of attacks used on social networking websites were related to malware.

The same technologies that invite user participation also make the sites easier to infect with malware that can shut down an organization's networks or deploy keystroke loggers that can steal your credentials.

The shortened URLs used by social media sites are also key vectors for attack, as they can more easily disguise a fake site. When you click on a shortened link, you really can't be sure what site you are being taken to. According to Websense's 2013 Threat Report, 32 percent of malicious links in social media used shortened web links.

How do we protect ourselves?
Security and privacy related to social media sites are fundamentally behavioral issues, not technology issues. Many of the tips below are ones that you have no doubt heard before, but they bear repeating-especially since we often aren't following them. It's not enough to just know what to do-we have to actually do it. Here's what we need to be doing:

Create strong passwords and use separate ones for each account. Using the same password on all accounts increases the vulnerability of these accounts if one becomes compromised.

Think before you share. You should only post information you are comfortable disclosing to a complete stranger.

Organizations should have a policy in place regarding social media use for employees.The policy should clearly identify what information is acceptable for posting on the organizations official social media sites and who is authorized to post. Confidential information should not be shared. Provide employee training on the policy in addition to periodic awareness training about social media risks.

Ensure that any computer you use to connect to the Internet has proper security measures in place. This includes up-to-date antivirus software as well as updated applications and operating systems. Set the configuration to "auto update" so patches can be applied automatically.

Be cautious about what you download. Some social networking sites provide the ability to add or install third party applications, such as games. The application may have full access to your account and the data you share. Malicious applications can use this access to interact with your friends on your behalf and to steal and misuse personal data. Only install applications that come from trusted, well-known sites. If you are no longer using the app, remove it. Also, note that installing some applications may modify your security and privacy settings.

We are operating in a completely different world than we were just a few years ago-in fact, maybe different from just a few months ago. The risks associated with using social media have never been greater. But, the good news is that by employing some fundamental controls we can significantly minimize our risk of being caught in the crosshairs of the next attack.


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