It sometimes seems like everything we do is documented online. All over the world, people are sharing their likes and dislikes, their dietary choices and their travel plans with friends and total strangers alike. To what extent is the information we are sharing putting us in danger of scams and exploitation and what can we do to mitigate these threats?

What We Share
It might be fun to reply to a casual acquaintance’s post asking friends to share what their first car was. People like to compare stories, we love goofy, lighthearted nostalgia and the question seems innocuous enough. But think about the last time you set “secret questions” for recovery purposes on an account; the questions offered were likely things like, “what is your favorite color,” “what street did you grow up on,” and “what was your first car?” If you aren’t thoughtful about your privacy settings, it is easy for your social media accounts to become a trove of useful information for a hacker looking to breach your account.

Why Social Engineering Works
A lot of modern technology is relatively secure, but human beings are not and we willfully send information out into the world which can be accessed by anyone, at any time, to turn us into targets. This can work on many different levels. We recently heard a story of a man who lived in a small town, who was friends with almost everyone in town on social media. Every time he went on vacation, without fail, his home was burglarized. Eventually he realized that his social media was signaling to everyone when he was gone and he was targeted as a result. We want to believe that the people we are interacting with online are good people with the best intentions, but we have to be cognizant of the fact that once we send information out into cyberspace, we lose control over it.

The Limits of Sharing
Every social media platform has privacy settings that allow you to choose what information you would like to be available to your actual friends and what can be seen by the public. All users of social media should familiarize themselves with these settings. Facebook has a profile view setting that allows you to see your profile the same way a perfect stranger would see it. Try it out, what can be discovered about you may be surprising. You can find basic privacy settings and tools for Facebook here. But even with your privacy settings properly calibrated, you should be aware that information you post can be copied and sent to third parties. Even in one-on-one personal messaging apps you should always be conscious of the fact that what you are sending could be shared elsewhere.

The best defense, as with so many aspects of life, is common sense. When it comes to sharing personal information about yourself, with anyone online, you should ask yourself do I need to do this? If someone shared this information with a stranger or someone with ill-intentions, could it be harmful? There has also been a rapid rise in the use of social media information in phone and email scams. Someone will email an individual, claiming to be a friend who is on a foreign vacation, saying they are in trouble and could you please wire them some money? The details change, but the gist is always the same—using publicly available information to create an emotional reaction which causes you to compromise your better judgement. In situations like this, it is always better to take a breath, pick up the phone and check on your friend or family member directly. And if you have further questions about keeping yourself secure on social media, you can call your friends at Mankato Computer Repair.