How to Save Face: 6 Tips for Safer Facebooking

1. Know what you’re getting into
Facebook is a business. It exists to take your online activity and turn it into revenue. Facebook will always be free. But there is a cost. You’re paying by being exposed to advertising and allowing limited disclosure of your online activity.

How limited? You could sit down for a while and read Facebook’s Privacy Policy. But you’ll probably need a few hours and some black coffee.

So here’s a short version: basically everything you post, every person you friend, every group you join will be made public to your “friends”, “friends of your friends” or “everyone”—depending on your privacy settings.

To you this may be simple. You assume that everything you’ve posted could be available to the whole world. Others are still learning. People have lost their jobs as a result of things they’ve posted on Facebook. And when this happens, the newly unemployed person will usually claim that s/he thought that the post was private.

So joining a social network is a leap of faith. On a social network, not only do you have to trust the site to follow its privacy policy, but you also have to trust your friends. Will they reveal your secrets? Will they pass on bad information and scams to you?

And, more importantly, you have to trust yourself to share the right things.

On Facebook, you are exposing your private life in ways you may not even realize. 79% of companies review an applicant’s online information (which is completely illegal in Finland but acceptable in most of the world). Your financial future could depend on how well your profile and your photos and friends list represent you. So think before you post—always.

2. Secure your PC
What does 500,000,000 people on one website look like? To cybercriminals, it looks like a gigantic, unsecured goldmine.

Online gangs and scammers are working twenty-four hours a day to exploit the trust we have for our online friends. Updated Internet security is a must before you use Facebook or any social site. In addition, you have to make certain that your PC is updated with the most recent application system software, which can be time-consuming. F-Secure’s free Health Check makes that easy.

3. Use a unique, strong password
‘Password’ is not a good password. Neither is ‘123456’ or your pet’s name or your name any information that is available publicly on your Facebook profile.

Creating a strong, complex password that you can remember is the key to keeping strangers out of your account. Here’s a simple password system we recommend. You should also use different passwords for your all of your various accounts, especially your email accounts, to keep one hack from becoming a total nightmare.

For extra protection, never let browser remember your password, and lock your PC when you step away from it—especially if you’re living with young children and/or parents and/or anyone, really.

4. Filter your friends
Facebook works overtime to connect you with as many people possible. When you first join, the site combs through your email account to suggest as many people as possible. Then as you use the site it will suggest more email contacts. Email someone new and Facebook will suggest that you become friends.

Run out of contacts, you’ll see friends of friends, brands you might like, your ex.

It’s a strange social dynamic. When see the person’s picture, it feels like this person wants to be your friend. But who knows? All you can be sure of is that Facebook wants you to be friends.

So ask yourself this: Does everyone you email need to be your Facebook friend?

Some people have found that their best friends in the real world make lousy Facebook friends. There are a lot of people who can find you who may not like reconnecting with. According to a recent survey, 70% of Facebook users avoided becoming friends with their bosses.

Maybe you want to limit Facebook to your friends and family and leave professional connections to Twitter and LinkedIn. There’s no perfect formula, but it’s important to have some filter, some limit on what you share with whom. How do you say no when someone you don’t want to offend makes a friend request? Facebook makes this easy. You can just ‘ignore’ the request. That’s a nice way to frame it!

Want to stop Facebook from combing through your email contacts? You can remove your contacts by clicking here. But if you’re using a Facebook app on your phone, first you’ll have to disable the Facebook synchronization feature on your phone.

Want to stop Facebook from suggesting you as a friend to others? Go to “Privacy Settings” click on “Settings” for “Basic Directory Information”.  When you get there, set “Search for me on Facebook” to “Friends Only”.

Always remember this: If anyone solicits you directly about money, assume it’s a scam. Ignore and defriend that profile immediately. An easy way to defriend someone is to go to their profile and scroll down the left column until you find “Remove from Friends”.

5. Click carefully
The biggest dangers on Facebook are the links that appear on your wall. With one bad click, you could end up on a site that attempts to serve you malware or scam you using phishing tactics. One, bad ‘like’ and you could end up spamming all of your friends. That’s why you have to remember that links are not your friends.

The most popular Facebook scams involve gift cards and hilarious videos and diet advice. So far most attacks on the site have been more annoying than harmful. But without vigilance, you can be sure that vicious scams and malware are heading your way.

The best antidote to bad links is Internet security with browsing protection. You can double-check any link before you click it by copying it (right-click on it in Windows) and pasting it into F-Secure’s free Browsing Protection.

Prevention is your best cure. Realize the more sensational or strange or generic a link is, the more likely it is to be malicious. Again, links are not your friends. Apply the same caution you’ve learned to use when you’re checking email to checking Facebook. And just because your friend or family linked something, doesn’t mean you have to click on it.

6. Don’t rely on Facebook to protect your privacy
The whole point of Facebook is to “connect and share with the people in your life.” But there’s a point, for nearly everyone, where all the connecting and sharing can be too much—especially as your information becomes increasingly available to people who aren’t necessarily “in your life.”

So whenever you use Facebook, you have to ask yourself two things: Who do I want to see what I’m doing? And how would I feel if the whole world saw this?

There’s no technical tool to stop your friends from sharing your information. But Facebook does offer you the tools to control who sees your activity. That’s why you need to get to know your privacy settings.

Start at “Account”> “Privacy Settings”. Then click on “Settings” for “Basic Directory Information” . This is where you decide who can find you and what they’ll see when they do.

You get to decide.  How easy do you want to make it to find you on Facebook? Which is more important to you: privacy or connection.

If you’re more interested in connection, select “Everyone” for the top three settings “Search for me on Facebook”, “Send me a friend request” and “Send me a message”. Then consider making all the other settings “Friends Only”. This will encourage people to become your friend, and it gives you more power over your information.

Next you can click back to “Privacy Settings” and set how you share on Facebook.

You can go with the preset options or customize each category individually.

Your safest bet is “Friends Only.” You may want to want to open your activity to “Friends of Friends”; however, there is certain information that you should not make available to “Everyone”. This includes your birthday, your email address and IM, your phone number and address, political and religious beliefs and your family and relationships.

Why? All of this information may be public somewhere else, like a phone book, but you’re simply making too much identifiable information public in one easily accessible place. There may not be enough there for true identity theft, but you are giving a stranger enough information to pose as you online convincingly, which could be a problem if some potential employer or date is checking out your online presence.

You may also want to uncheck the box that says “Let friends of people tagged in my photos and posts see them.” This way you won’t unintentionally draw attention to an image one of your friends may not want others to see.

If you’re very interested in your privacy, you should continue and edit your Application and Website Settings.

Here you should do two things. 1) Remove any applications you aren’t using.  2) Click on “Turn off all platform applications”. Then you can select which applications you don’t ever want to show up on your wall ever again. That’s right. You can say goodbye to FarmVille forever, if you want to.

You can also turn off all platform applications, which will keep your friends from automatically sharing your information with the applications they’re using. Not a bad idea.

Next you can click on “Game and application activity”. Click “Customize” and select “Only Me” to keep all of your Game and application activity to yourself, which is a good idea if you’re friends with people (read: co-workers) who may judge how you spend your time.

After that, take a look at “Info accessible through your friends”.  Here you’ll see all the information that is available to the applications your friends decide to use. That’s right, your friends share all this information automatically with the applications they use.

Once you see that screen, you may want to go back to “Turn off all platform applications”. Why not turn it off until you have a good reason to turn it on?

Now we’re at “Instant Personalization”, which is controversial because Facebook opted all of its users into it. Of course, it warned everyone through an update to its Privacy Policy, but you probably didn’t take the time or coffee needed to figure that out.

So what does Instant Personalization do? It shares your information with three Facebook partner sites: Docs, Yelp and Pandora. Could more partners be added? Yes. Could you just opt out of one or two? Yes. Just click on Docs, Yelp or Pandora and then click on “Block Application.”

Again, unless you know you want to share information with these sites, it’s a good idea to opt out for now.

If you made it this far, you will be rewarded. We are now at, perhaps, the most important Facebook privacy setting: “Public Search”.

You probably heard how recently the information of over 100 million Facebook users was made available for download. All of that information was public before a security researcher took it and turned it into one downloadable file. Those 100 million Facebook users probably had enabled public search.

This is where get to decide if the whole world can find your Facebook profile and information. With one click, your profile could become the top result of a Google search for your name. If you want to avoid disclosure of your information to the world, you may want to start by limiting who can search for you. I recommend that you do not click the box to “Enable public search”.

So those are the tools Facebook gives you to protect your information. They’re complex, and that’s probably on purpose. Facebook is not shy about encouraging it’s users to share and share and share. That’s why you have to remember that Facebook (and your friends) can’t share anything you don’t post to the site.

So be careful not to post anything that can be used against you. This includes travel plans and itineraries,  complaints about bosses, co-workers and customers, company secrets, threats… Has anyone actually had a home robbed after posting plans on Facebook? Yes, indeed.

There are a million things you shouldn’t post. And you are the only person who can decide what you SHOULD share with Facebook and the world. So choose wisely.

Bonus tip: Use Facebook’s one true security feature
Facebook’s one true security feature is simple but powerful. Facebook will inform you anytime any new device accesses your account. That means if some PC or smartphone you’ve never used before logs into your account, Facebook will email you.

To turn this feature on, go to “Account Settings”. Then select “Account Security”.

Just click “Yes ” and then “Submit”.

Now, what do you do if you find out that someone beside you accessed your account? Change your password immediately. On the “Account Settings” page find “Password” and click “change”.

OK. That’s all I know about making Facebook safer a place for you and your friends. For ongoing tips you can follow F-Secure on Facebook. Do you have any tips to add?

More posts from this topic


Cyber Monday Mythbusting

It's Cyber Monday, and marketing companies expect online shoppers to flock to websites and apps in order to take advantage of holiday sales. And naturally, this causes concerns about what kind of risks people are taking when they shop online. But F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan says any security warnings focusing on Cyber Monday are simply part of the hype. “Cyber Monday is no more or less safe than any other day of the year. People just expose themselves to more online threats when they do more stuff online, but that really has nothing to do with Cyber Monday. And people that tell you otherwise aren’t doing you any favors.” So there you have it. On the other hand, Sullivan does point out that holiday shoppers should beware of the extent to which they expose themselves while online shopping, which is becoming more popular during the holidays. Adobe is projecting an eleven percent increase in online spending during the holidays this year, amounting to a whopping 83 billion dollars. So that’s 83 billion dollars that will be up for grabs (compared to just 3 billion on Cyber Monday), so it’s naïve to think that criminals are just going to ignore the opportunity. Last year, F-Secure Labs registered a sharp increase in ransomware detections during November and December, including a 300 percent increase in the Browlock police-themed ransomware family. Sullivan published a recent blog post examining the Crytowall ransomware family, which he says is prevalent during the holiday season but virtually disappears in early January – when people celebrating Orthodox Christmas in Russia begin their holidays. One easy way to protect yourself from ransomware and other online threats while holiday shopping is to be conscious of the threat landscape. Its trends like these that Sullivan pays attention to, and warns others to do the same. “It would be safe to say that people should be worried about ransomware this holiday season, and probably through next year. I expect that we, or at least security researchers, will look back on 2016 as the year of extortion.” For example, even though mobile device are now widespread and used by many people, they’re not necessarily good tools to use for making financial transactions while online shopping. “I use an iPad running Freedome for the vast majority of my online browsing, which works great for me because it’s easy to use and I can bring it with me if I leave the house. And between the security benefits of a VPN and the relatively small amount of malware targeting iOS devices, I feel pretty confident in using it to casually window shop on different websites. But I always use a PC to make actual purchases. I trust that my PC is secure and the actual keyboard makes it easier to enter financial data.” You can find more great advice on how to stay safe while online shopping here. [Image by Atomic Taco | Flickr]

November 30, 2015

A temporary profile picture but permanent app permissions

We are all sad about what’s happened in Paris last Friday. It’s said that the terrorist attacks have changed the world. That is no doubt true, and one aspect of that is how social media becomes more important in situations like this. Facebook has deployed two functions that help people deal with this kind of crisis. The Safety Check feature collects info about people in the area of a disaster, and if they are safe or not. This feature was initially created for natural disasters. Facebook received criticism for using it in Paris but not for the Beirut bombings a day earlier. It turned out that their explanation is quite good. Beirut made them think if the feature should be used for terror attacks as well, and they were ready to change the policy when Paris happened. The other feature lets you use a temporary profile picture with some appropriate overlay, the tricolor in this case. This is a nice and easy way to show sympathy. And it became popular very quickly, at least among my friends. The downside is however that it seemed so popular that those without a tricolor were sticking out. Some people started asking them why they aren’t supporting the victims in Paris? The whole thing has lost part of its meaning when it goes that far. We can’t know anymore who genuinely supports France and who changed the picture because of the social pressure. I changed my picture too. And it was interesting to see how the feature was implemented. The Facebook app for iOS 9 launched a wizard that let me make a picture with the tricolor overlay. Either by snapping a new selfie or using one of my previous profile pictures. I guess the latter is what most people want to do. But Facebook’s wizard requires permissions to use the camera and refuses to start until the user has given that permission. Even if you just want to modify an existing picture. Even more spooky. The wizard also asked for permission to use the microphone when I first run it. That is, needless to say, totally unnecessary when creating a profile picture. And Facebook has been accused of misusing audio data. It’s doubtful if they really do, but the only sure thing is that they don’t if you deny Facebook microphone access. But that was probably a temporary glitch, I was not able to reproduce the mic request when resetting everything and running the wizard again. Your new profile picture may be temporary, but any rights you grant the Facebook app are permanent. I’m not saying that this is a sinister plot to get more data about you, it may be just sloppy programming. But it is anyway an excellent reminder about how important the app permissions are. We should learn to become more critical when granting, or denying, rights like this. This is the case for any app, but especially Facebook as its whole business model is based on scooping up data about us users. Time for an app permission check. On your iOS device, go to Settings and Privacy. Here you can see the categories of info that an app can request. Go through them and think critically about if a certain app really needs its permissions to provide value to you. Check Facebook's camera and microphone permissions if you have used the temporary profile picture feature. And one last thing. Make it a habit to check the privacy settings now and then.   [caption id="attachment_8637" align="aligncenter" width="169"] This is how far you get unless you agree to grant Facebook camera access.[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_8638" align="aligncenter" width="169"] The Settings, Privacy page. Under each category you find the apps that have requested access, and can select if the request is granted or denied.[/caption]     Safe surfing, Micke   PS. The temporary profile picture function is BTW simpler in Facebook's web interface. You just see your current profile picture with the overlay. You can pan and zoom before saving. I like that approach much more.   Photo by Markus Nikander and iPhone screen captures    

November 16, 2015
facebook login

Using Facebook to log in – safe or not?

Open up your favorite web site and you can see what this is about right away. There are in many cases two options, an ordinary log-in and “Log in with Facebook”. Have you been using the Facebook option? It is quite convenient, isn’t it? I was talking to a journalist about privacy a while ago. One of the hints that ended up in the final story was that it isn’t necessary a good idea to link your other accounts to Facebook. And that raised questions. Some people have wondered why it is so, and pointed out that we at F-Secure also provide that option in our portal for F-Secure SAFE, MY SAFE. So let’s take a closer look. Is it good, bad or ugly? Here’s the important points: Facebook acts like an authentication service in this scenario. One single password opens the door to many services. This is indeed convenient and reduces the need to remember a lot of different passwords. But you should use different passwords on every service to reduce the damage if a password is leaked. That could happen for example in a phishing scam. Using Facebook’s log-in everywhere is putting all your eggs in the same basket. The worst thing you can do is to use the same user ID and password on all your sites, but *not* the Facebook function. A leak in any of them could give the attackers access to all your systems. Using the Facebook login instead is in this case a way to *improve* security. Facebook's servers are well secured, a leak from them is highly unlikely. It may reveal private info from Facebook to the other service unnecessarily. Most of us just click OK when Facebook asks for permission to give data to the other service, without thinking about what we really approve. Facebook will get yet another sensor to profile you. They will know that you use a certain service, when and how often you use it, and on what kind of device and where in the world you are when using it. Most people are on Facebook under their real name, but you may want to use other services more anonymously. If you don’t want it to be publicly known that you use a particular service, then you shouldn’t use your real-name Facebook account to log in. Remember that privacy on-line is not just about how much private data you reveal. It’s also very much about whom you reveal it to and how fragmented your digital footprint is. Preventing different services from consolidating your data improves your privacy. So should I use this feature at all? Maybe, it depends. There are some downsides, but it's a convenient way to log in, that can’t be denied. But first, the security-savvy approach is to instead use separate strong passwords on every site and a password manager. It’s a little bit of work when you set it up, but it is really the most secure approach. Don't use Facebook log-in for critical services. Those are sites containing sensitive information or where you make payments. They always deserve a strong unique password. But there's also a large number of sites that aren't that critical. Your on-line newspaper for example. If crooks get your Facebook password then your compromised newspaper account will be the smallest of your problems. Go ahead and use Facebook log-in for those if you find it convenient, but keep in mind the privacy concerns listed above. It's all about how picky you are about privacy. And don’t forget to review the permissions you have givens to apps and sites in Facebook. Go to Settings / Apps and you see the list of approved apps. Remove anything that sounds fishy, that you can’t remember approving or that you aren’t using frequently. Don’t be afraid to remove too much. The worst thing that can happen is that an app or site stops working and asks you to give it Facebook permissions again. Open all remaining apps and review what permissions they have. Think about what they do for you and if they really need all their permissions. Fix the permissions if needed. To wrap up. The Facebook log-in feature is not a security problem. Facebook's security system is solid and your security is not in jeopardy if you use it. But I still recommend separate passwords for the critical sites. The question marks are on the privacy front instead. Linking sites together contributes to forming a more comprehensive digital footprint. It's up to you to decide how worried you are about it. With this info you should be able to make an educated decision about where Facebook log-in can and can't be used.   [caption id="attachment_8629" align="aligncenter" width="266"] Jamendo's permissions in Facebook. This is the basic permissions most well-behaving apps/sites ask for. If the site asks for more, consider carefully if it really is needed.[/caption]   Safe surfing, Micke     Images by C_osett and Facebook screen capture

November 12, 2015