ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – In today’s day and age, social media has become a whole new way of life for many of us. Its evolution has brought a revolutionary change in how we use the internet – for both personal and professional purposes – and has become an integral part of how we communicate with the rest of the world.
Recognized as Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the month of October provides every year an opportunity to highlight and raise awareness on the importance of cybersecurity.
When we think about cybersecurity, the one thing that stands out is how to protect internet-connected systems and sensitive information from digital attacks. One area that is often overlooked - and underestimated - is social media and how it fits in the big picture for cybersecurity.
“Social media can impact cybersecurity in multiple ways,” said Dr. Kathy Linderman, chief information officer for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command G6 (Information Management).
“For example, you may unintentionally expose personal information that could aid identity thieves or even compromise your safety. You might be convinced to click on a link that downloads malware to your computer, or to believe and act on false information.”
Established in 2004 by the president of the United States and Congress as a collaborative effort between government and industry, Cybersecurity Awareness Month was instituted to help ensure all Americans have the resources they need to be safer online.
We use social media to stay in touch with family and friends, and to find long-lost friends or relatives. We share videos and photos of our families, our homes, and places we visit. We create events, sell and buy items, and join groups we share interests with. We follow the news, shop and play games, all through a single social media platform.
Additionally, social media has become for many a personal journal, scrapbook, appointment reminder, a calendar invite. For some, it has become the only way to socialize in a world that is more and more accepting toward virtual reality.
However, social media is a double-edged sword. It displays total convenience on one side, but cybersecurity risks on the other. Both sides have the ability to affect every user, from a single individual to entire organizations.
“It’s critical that we are cognizant of the information we share on social media,” said Linderman. “Once we post something, we can never really reverse that decision, even if we later delete the post or even our entire account. There’s no way for us to know if someone else has already copied and shared our information, or if it is still on a server somewhere.”
Linderman said she believes that many social media users underestimate the threats to their own safety.
“We are social beings with a need for connection, so we share our thoughts, activities, and personal information online with friends, family, and those with similar interests,” she said. “We may post in groups, such as a community or special hobby group, where we do not know everyone.”
Linderman said we can easily forget that unknown others may be watching with the intent of stealing our information or harming us.
“They might be hiding in plain sight behind a fake profile, pretending to be someone we know, or they might be gleaning information that we have made publicly available whether intentionally or not.”
Linderman said that social media has become a prime target for cybercrime, because we often forget that every time we post, we might be providing data for those looking to gain information.
Furthermore, our responses could provide a hacker with clues to our passwords, habits, or personal information.
“For example, if I post daily photos while I am on vacation, I might be telling a potential thief that I am not home,” she said. “A friend might post a harmless quiz asking questions about pets, favorite foods, marital status, or our birth month. Because the poster is familiar to us, we may believe that responding to the quiz is all in fun,” she added.
Linderman shared some recommendations for social media users.
“First and foremost, check your privacy settings to ensure that the only people who have access to your personal information or social media posts are those to whom you have specifically granted access.
“Second, despite your privacy settings, always assume that anything you post could potentially become public. Think twice before posting and consider the potential risks to your privacy or safety if the information were to be stolen,” she said, adding that special precautions should always be taken in public forums or in private groups where you don’t know everyone.
“Third, verify new friend requests before accepting them to ensure that it was sent by someone you know and not someone hiding behind a fake profile,” she added, advising users to be wary of requests that come from a “friend of a friend.”
“Even if they are connected on social media to someone you know, don’t assume that your friend knows them personally.”
While for many of us the thought of living without social media seems impossible, it is important to remember how to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of cyber attacks, and to remember that awareness is the first step to improving online safety.