5 Social Media Vulnerabilities & The Best Preventive Measures

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How does a day in your life start?

Unless and until you are a health freak, I am sure, the first thing that you do is, search for your phone, unlock it and check for social media notifications, don’t you? Well, that’s how deep the impact of social media is!

Ever since social media came into existence, there has been no looking back! It has evolved exponentially over all these years. It’s no more a choice but a necessity today! People visit a place and check in on Facebook. They keep others updated about their activities through WhatsApp and Instagram stories. Just before they dig into those mouth-watering delicacies, they click classy pictures and let others know what they’re about to have. They actively search for jobs using LinkedIn and share their joy or anger through threads on Twitter! This doesn’t end here, they promote their business on Pinterest, YouTube and so on. In other words, social media is basically inevitable for the people around the globe today!

According to a report by Statista.com, a whopping 2.46 billion internet users are active on social media as recorded in 2017. The source further states that there will be around 2.77 billion social media users in 2019! That’s quite huge a number, isn’t it? However, you’ll be surprised to know, not all of those who use social media are aware of the privacy and security risks involved in the usage. For a lot of them, online privacy is simply a private matter! But the truth is, getting your information out online, in some way or the other, deprives you of your privacy whether you want it or not!

It’s a no-brainer that everyone, from an unemployed youth to a fully-fledged businessman, in a way, relies on social media and benefits from it as well. But as they say – A coin has two sides! Similarly, social media also has a dark side. If you let your guard down even once, you may simply put your privacy and security in danger. Here’s a list of 5 privacy and security risks involved in the usage of social media:

  • Profile Hacking:

This is one of the most common issues faced by social media users. You never know, a hacker may be prowling online. You fail to safeguard your profile and it may get hacked within a fraction of seconds. Let me tell you, profile hackers are highly skilled people with some exceptional programming skills. Hacking one’s social media account is not that easy but it takes just a few minutes for them to get an access to anyone’s social media account. One of the most common methods used to hack a profile is cracking the passwords of a social media user’s account and that’s what these hackers do with utter ease!

One of the latest examples of cyber security hacks is the infamous US Universities’ hacking. The Department of Justice indicted nine Iranian hackers for infiltrating around 300 universities in March, this year. As per the Department of Justice, these hackers stole 31 terabytes of data, estimated to be worth $3 billion in intellectual property. DOJ further states that the hackers used spoofed emails to trick professors and other university affiliates into clicking on malicious links and entering their network login credentials. They were successfully able to gain credentials from about 8,000 individuals with 3,768 of those at US institutions.

  • Impostor Scams:

Impostor scams have created a stir ever since they came into existence. In such type of scams, a scammer pretends to be someone you trust. These types of scams can be seen overall social media platforms like Facebook, Quora, Instagram and so on!

They can pretend to be a celebrity that you follow or an NGO that you actively donate to! The impostors will cleverly convince you to send them money and the reasons they’ll give may be claiming a prize, raising funds for someone battling with a life-threatening disease, donating to a charity or simply extending help for a legitimate cause!

More often than not, these impostors succeed in their malicious attempts to extract hefty amounts of money from people. That’s because social media users are unwary, impatient and overwhelmed by the fact that their favorite celebrity or organization contacted them. They completely neglect the importance of checking the authenticity of the profile they’ve been contacted from or the cause they are about to donate for.

  • Third-Party Applications:

Third party applications are the programs that interact with the social network but are owned and run by separate developers. What’s fishy about most of these apps is, they often ask for a lot of your personal details without clearly specifying why they need it. Once you give away your personal or “sensitive” information, it is prone to be subjected to the consequences resulting from the vulnerabilities in these third-party apps. So, even if you feel that you have secured your social accounts in the best possible manner, hackers can still access your accounts using these leaky points.

When it’s about businesses, these third-party apps prove to be quite harmful due to a new authentication protocol, known as Oath connections. These Oath connections allow apps to act on behalf of users. Scary, right? What’s more horrifying is that these apps may simply ruin a business if enabled using corporate credentials as this increases the access scopes of these apps. Once these apps gain an access, they can easily view, transfer, store and even delete corporate data on behalf of users!

The latest example of this type of social media privacy risk was the Cambridge Analytical scandal. The scandal involved a company named “Cambridge Analytical” that had worked on Donald Trump’s US presidential election campaign, harvesting the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and using it for political purposes.

  • Phishing Attacks:

How often have you received a mail stating: “You’ve won a free holiday” or “xxx amount has been transferred to your account. Claim it now!”? These emails are often spoofed ones that are used by hackers for phishing.

Now you might be wondering what on earth does “phishing mean”! Well, the word “phishing basically refers to a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

Hackers mainly do this using email spoofing or instant messaging. A spoofed mail would direct a user to a fake website where he/she would be required to provide some personal information (like banking details, passwords or business information). The problem is, you can’t really differentiate the fake website from a legitimate one until you dig deep into its URL. A majority of the population is prone to phishing attacks as these scams are simple and almost everyone uses email today.

The soccer world cup phishing scam can be taken as one of the best examples in this case. It became a hub for phishing scams for the hackers. They used a number of spoofed pages, spam email attachments, and unrealistic “offers”. These over-the-top offers included fake notifications of lottery winnings, spam advertisements, and even fraudulent ticket sales so as to entice the curious fans. The hackers further tried to leverage this fraudulent activity by installing numerous malicious extensions to Google Chrome that lured the viewers through various options like live feeds and match highlights. Crazy fans enthusiastically installed such extensions and eventually ended up turning their devices into a source of a data breach, giving away sensitive information. The scam further caused the devices to be accessed by the attackers.

  • Social Sharing:

Social media sharing services are the ones that enable users to generate and share different types of content. Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, YouTube, and Vimeo are some of the most famous social sharing sites used by a majority of internet users. Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest are mainly used by individuals and businesses to share pictures whereas YouTube and Vimeo are used to put up videos and audios for promotional or entertainment purposes.

Sharing content online requires nothing more than a smartphone today. People simply click a picture or record a video of anything or anyone whom they find fascinating and post it online. This leads to an increased amount of personal content availability online. In fact, there are cases where a picture or a video of a subject posted online does not have the consent of the subject! Since there are no strict rules, so, there’s nothing much that can be done about this. Multimedia collections have an immense potential to reveal much of the user’s personal and social environment. However, once some information is posted online, the user no longer owns it, even if it’s a personal conversation. That’s because such information can always be shared no matter whether you’re using Gmail or Facebook or LinkedIn.

This does not end here. As a matter of fact, almost all the social media sites make use of mobile apps and the location-based services to enable users to do the same. A lot of people can be found informing their social friends about their upcoming travel on Facebook and other platforms. In fact, checking in on a preferred social media account has become more of a ritual today.

Nonetheless, this reveals your plans or your current location not only to those people who are a part of your social media network and whom you want to tell but also to the ones whom you may not wish to.

You never know your competitors might just be looking for that chance when you are out of the country and they get this golden opportunity to harm your business!

All That Can Safeguard Your Social Media Privacy:

So, is there something that can be done to keep these social media securities and privacy risks at bay?

Well, the answer is – Yes!

Here’s a list of the most effective measures that you can take to keep all your data safe from these scams:

  • Two-factor Authentication:

Leverage Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) that refers to a type of multi-factor authentication. You may simply consider it as an additional level of security. It is a method of confirming users’ claimed identities by using a combination of two different factors:

  • something they know
  • something they have

or

  • something they are.

PayPal is a suitable example of Two- factor authentication. This online payment system is used to store financial and personal information. Since it stores sensitive data, so, it needs to have an added layer of security. 2FA enables the payment system to send you a text message asking to verify the account activity, in case someone else tries to log into your Paypal account. In an unlikely case of incomplete or no authentication of the account, a security hold will be placed on it until the additional authentication.

  • Do Not Fall A Prey To Impostors:

Someday, if you wake up to a mail or a message from your favorite celebrity, asking for a little financial favor for a legitimate cause from you, doesn’t lose your mind over it. Instead make it a point to:

  • Check if the profile or the mail id that just contacted you is genuine or not.
  • Research about the scams related to that celebrity.
  • Check for the authenticity of the cause that the person in question is asking you to donate for.

In other words, just make sure that you do not let an impostor steal your hard earned money.

  • Think Thrice Before Opening A Link:

Not every link on the internet directs you to a place you want to be at. Chances are, that many of those links are malicious and being used by hackers to get an access to your personal information. The links may even be used by the attackers to inject viruses that may further lead to undesirable and much devastating issues.

So, before clicking any link, make sure it’s not fake. For this, check for the following red flags:

  • The link is a shortened URL.
  • The link came to you in an unsolicited mail and asks for verification of personal information.
  • The link has certain strange characters in it.

You can check the authenticity of a link by expanding it or scanning it using a link scanner. Additionally, make sure that you have a reliable antivirus system installed on your device.

  • Limit Your Social Sharing:

No matter how active you are on social media or how eager you are to share what you are having right now or where you are about to travel in the coming week, just limit sharing such information. In case you can’t let go off that temptation of sharing your whereabouts, just make sure that you do not tag your mates and give detailed information regarding your whereabouts, which may create unwanted issues in your life.

Lastly, ensure that you take your social profiles seriously and leverage the privacy settings on social media.

Technology will keep evolving and risks will keep increasing. So, you have got to be smarter to survive in this world ruled by social media!

Author Bio: Marceline Joseph is an online educator, programmer and an academic writer associated with Homework Help Company. Besides being associated with the education and teaching industry, Marceline is a passionate stamp collector and chess player.