The holiday season is almost here -- a time when folks reach out to family and friends. Social media websites are where many people make those connections these days. But cyber criminals are also busy on those sites, trying to steal information.
Facebook currently has more than 500 million users and Twitter has more than 190 million. That popularity has also attracted the attention of cyber criminals. A recent security threat report by Sophos indicated that cyber criminals have increased their attacks on social networking sites by approximately 70 percent since 2009.
"Primarily what they are doing is they are hacking into either accounts or computers that are owned by the social media sites or setting up they are setting up spam e-mails to where people are receiving e-mails," said Erin Dufner of the Better Business Bureau .
In September, hackers hit Twitter and many users were redirected to third-party websites without their consent just by scrolling their mouse over a link.
Also in September, Facebook users faced a clickjacking attempt. Those affected had status updates that were misleading and they encouraged others to click on the link. Those who fell for the bait were redirected to an outside source which reposted the same status on their wall and added them to an anonymous fan page without their consent.
"It looks like it's from a Facebook friend and they're clicking on links and then what they're doing is providing a different redirect to a different website and therefore collecting additional personal information," Dufner explained. "For example they may redirect you to another site that asks you to re-login to Facebook, for example, where they would then collect your user name and password, and of course, with that, you can do a lot of damage."
The BBB has suggestions for things to do to protect yourself.
- Avoid clicking on unsolicited links . Social media profiles are no different than e-mail inboxes and should be treated just the same. Be extremely wary of unsolicited messages from friends or strangers that direct you to another website via a hyperlink.
- Manage passwords carefully. Rotate passwords every few months, and do not use the same few passwords for multiple accounts. Keep the passwords in a safe place in your home -- not on your laptop or phone.
- Do not share personal information. Social networking websites are about sharing information, but keep important information private. While some social networking websites do allow you to share phone numbers and addresses, it's best to keep such information private.
- Be selective when choosing friends, followers, etc. Even though you might not want to be rude, it is sometimes best to decline a request for friendship if you don't actually know the person or cannot verify their profile is legitimate.
- Keep your security software updated. Make sure your computer's operating system and antivirus and firewall software are up to date.
- Set strict privacy settings . These settings allow you to control who can see your posts, photos, where you are in the "places" application, etc. Be sure that you know the people who are capable of viewing this information as unscrupulous viewers may abuse the knowledge of your preferences and whereabouts to begin capturing pieces of your identity.
"There are a lot of different options, and the social media sites are taking those extra precautions," Dufner said of the controls offered by sites like Facebook. "But it is up to us, the consumers, the users of these social media sites, to protect ourselves."
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