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What is Social Networking?

It's so hip and so much fun! Online social networks are a fast-growing trend that is gaining momentum at an exponential rate. Wikipedia defines a social network service as, "an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, e.g., who share interests and/or activities. A social network service essentially consists of a representation of each user (often a profile), his/her social links, and a variety of additional services. Most social network services are web-based and provide means for users to interact over the internet, such as e-mail and instant messaging."1 Mobile social networking is also becoming more popular and mobile users are open to every social networking option as someone sitting at home using a computer.

There are numerous online social network sites, but some of the most popular in the United States include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook Mobile, and LinkedIn. According to eMarketer.com, the reason a preponderance of people use online social network sites is to keep in touch with friends, family, former classmates, and business connections, or just for fun.2 While these purposes may seem benign, there are reasons users of online social networking sites should take precautions and be mindful of what they do when visiting these sites.

Why You Should be Careful

If you expose too much information in your profile (such as address, complete birth date, etc.), you run the very real of risk of identity theft. If you accept all "friend" or "follower" requests, whether you know the person or not, you make your personal information available to essentially everyone.

Additionally, some employers are starting to use social networking sites to research job candidates and others are planning to start using social networking sites for applicant screening. Therefore, items in your profile, as well as posts or pictures you've placed online, could possibly have an adverse effect on your hiring eligibility. Even if you are not looking for a job today, items posted in the past could come back to haunt you at some point in the future. Therefore, it is prudent to be mindful of how things posted today may appear tomorrow.

Bottom line, your identity and reputation are potentially at risk. You should always be vigilant with information you reveal online, and especially while on social networking sites. What might seem like a good idea at one point could prove disastrous to you later. So proceed wisely and make common sense decisions.

How You Can Protect Yourself

Familiarize yourself with Privacy Settings, Security Settings, and/or Account Settings of any social network platform you use. Do not merely accept the default settings; adjust to the strictest point that will suit your needs. You can use these settings to restrict who can access and post on your social networking pages. Also locate and read the Privacy Policies, to ensure you understand exactly how each site shares your information. You should use extra caution when browsing the social networking sites on smart phones and cell phones, which can be just as vulnerable as computers and laptops.

Use anti-virus software and keep it updated. New viruses come out continually and up-to-date anti-virus software will help protect your computer from viruses lurking on a social networking site. For more information on this read the TEAM course "Avoiding Viruses and Worms," an earlier topic in this series.

It is also a good idea to use strong passwords to protect your social network account from possible compromise and abuse. Strong passwords use a combination of alphanumeric characters, upper and lower case letters and include special characters such as question marks, exclamation points, asterisks, etc. For more on this read the TEAM course "Creating a Secure Password."

Due to the inherent sociable nature of online social networking, people tend to provide more personal information than necessary. As stated earlier, it is good practice to limit the detail in your profile to prevent identity theft. However, there are additional pieces of data that could potentially be harmful as well, not only to you but also to your children using social networking platforms. Chief among these is location disclosure. Someone reading the location post could go to that location, and armed with other information gleaned (such as friends' names, interests, hobbies, etc.) could perform a social engineering attack to manipulate or lure you or a younger, more trusting person to them for malicious purposes.

Finally, be suspicious. It is easy for someone to misrepresent himself or herself online in order to gain your trust. Do not believe everything you read. Do not interact with people you do not know. Be wary and vigilant regarding online communications in order to maintain a safe environment for online socializing.


1 http://en/wikipedia.org/
2 Anderson Analytics, "Social Network Service (SNS) A&U Profiler," provided to eMarketer, July 13, 2009, www.eMarketer.com

These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your credit union as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.

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