Award-winning debut mystery author Micki Browning is an FBI National Academy graduate who worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. Learn more about Micki at her website. Today Micki stops by with information to help keep us all safe online.
Cyber Safety and Social Media
Few of us get through a single day without electronically transmitting personal information. Think about it. ATM transactions, emails, Internet searches and purchases, downloads, delivery text alerts—all these transactions send account information across cyberspace. We voluntarily assume risk in exchange for convenience, but with the advent of social media, the amount of personal information we share has increased exponentially. Fortunately, a few extra steps can go a long way to safeguard your privacy and mitigate your risk of becoming a victim of cyber-crime.
Cyber-crime is defined as any illegal activity conducted by means of a computer or the Internet. It’s a huge topic and too broad for a blog post. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on one aspect: social media platforms.
The major risk with social media lies not in the amount of personal information you share, but rather the type. Let’s take a look at your posts. Does Facebook remind your friends of your birthday? Sure, it’s nice to see all the birthday wishes roll in, but birthdates are a critical component of identity theft. Coupled with your hometown, or place of birth, and you’ve provided a trifecta of critical information that can be used against you.
Vacations are exciting! We love to share our travels, but do you announce them prior to embarking? Daily updates confirm you’re still away from home. Burglars use social media, too.
Less obvious reveals abound as well. A person wanting to scam you may use the ploy of a shared interest as a way to build trust, or to track your activities. Even your favorite books, artists, and restaurants provide information that can be harvested by the unscrupulous to exploit you. That forgotten classmate from the high school you attended? He dropped out—from a school three states away and has no idea who you really are, but wants to be your “friend” and rekindle your relationship—for his benefit, not yours.
Why does this happen?
The Internet imparts a sense of anonymity that is absent from face-to-face encounters. People rely on body language signals to help them determine who to trust—and more importantly—who to avoid. It’s easy to discount danger when a person isn’t within striking range, and the Internet fosters a false sense of security. But ask someone who’s been the victim of identity theft or who’s had malicious software infect her computer how disruptive an anonymous crook can be.
What can you do?
Each platform takes steps to enhance your privacy and cyber protection, but it’s up to you to ensure you are using them. Review their policies. Go to the site’s help page for instructions. Be proactive. Systematically click on each link and confirm that the settings you want are the ones you have.
Review the passwords to all your accounts. Passwords should be distinct for each account and include a capitalization, a character and a number. Experts recommend changing passwords every six months. Make it a resolution you keep—twice—every year.
Validate and verify your contacts. Friends, followers and contacts often have access to your email. Scams are rampant. Nigerian princes aren’t so altruistic that they want to share their fortunes with you. Malware is often hidden in email attachments or is activated through a link embedded in the body of the message. If you have any questions about the sender, don’t click on either.
Several social media sites now offer retail opportunities, which means that not only are you sharing your personal data, but your financial info as well. Only provide financial information when you initiate the contact.
It all sounds so dire. My point is not to be paranoid about personal privacy, but informed. “Friends” is a slippery term. It implies someone who is close and cares about you and your activities—someone who looks out for you. On social media, sharing your information with someone only requires a click of a button. Cyber-crimes are often crimes of opportunity. Don’t allow yourself to be an easy target.
Marine scientist Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after life in the Arctic, but when a ghost-hunting documentary leader vanishes during a midnight dive, she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue. Determined to debunk paranormal explanations and salvage her reputation, Mer launches her own investigation. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.