How to protect your data privacy on social networks

Studies have said public speaking makes as many as 3 out of 4 people anxious. But that was before Facebook.

The 650 million people on Facebook suggest that most of us are getting over—or want to get over—that fear of communicating (or at least sharing pictures) in public. In just a few years, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have given billions of people the chance to connect to an audience they would never had access to before.

But now that you’re becoming comfortable in public, you may begin to wonder: Am I revealing too much? In a world with the NSA, TMZ and Wikileaks, do I have any privacy? Is it possible to be a public person and still protect my information from being misused?

Friday January 28 is Data Privacy Day 2011, an international celebration of the dignity of the individual represented through personal information. Protecting your irreplaceable data is our mission and we take this mission very seriously. (Here is F-Secure’s Privacy Policy.)

The risks

The more visible, attractive or rich you are, the more you’re a target for the haters, the stalkers and online criminals of the 21st century. Heck, if you have a credit card, you’re a target for both the online criminals and unscrupulous marketers of the world.

Sharing personal information in an age where data can travel faster than lightning requires a 21st century view of data privacy. Some think it’s vain to worry about privacy. But don’t think about your ego, think about social engineering.

Wiktionary describes social engineering as “The practice of tricking a user into giving, or giving access to, sensitive information, thereby bypassing most or all protection.” Criminals have discovered that human error is the easiest vulnerability to exploit. If you’re not careful, your private data (or even public data) can be used to fool you into making mistakes that even your award-winning Internet Security can’t prevent.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s not an excuse. Once your private data is stolen, you’ll have to deal with the consequences. The good news is that you can do a lot to make your data more secure

My nephew once told me, “Facebook is so easy that even old people can use it.” And by old people, he meant me.

I agree with my nephew. Most people who use social media don’t suffer significant negative consequences for doing so—or there wouldn’t be millions of new people trying it every day. Stories of people being fired or arrested for what they’ve done on Facebook are rare. But they get lots of attention because Facebook is the superstar everyone knows.

Only a small percentage of those on social media fall victim to the worst of identity theft, malware or scams. And that’s still too many people suffering needlessly—especially because most of these scourges are avoidable.

The lessons

If you learned to manage the benefits and risks of email, you can do the same for social media. Here a few things you can do to help keep your private data private.

1. Decide why you’re social networking.
For some, social networking is an extension of your private life. You mostly interact with people you know or would like to know in the real world. The main topics of conversation are personal. Even when you delve into entertainment or politics or sports, it’s about sharing opinions to have fun and connect. Intimacy is the goal so private things are often shared nonchalantly. For instance, you might reveal what you did on a day when you played hooky from school or work.

For others, social networking is like interacting at a conference. You’re seeking out people in your industry or whom you admire. Conversation is like a cocktail party—being interesting and on-topic matters. When you talk about entertainment or politics or sports, it’s a way to network and establish trust. You want people to feel like they know you, but getting too personal too fast raises red flags. For instance, you may reveal what you did on your vacation but only in a way that you wouldn’t mind your boss reading.

For a growing number of people, social network is a chance to build a little fame or fortune. You’re looking for an audience who trusts and enjoys you to the point you might even sell them things. You converse with fellow influencers and friends but you also broadcast for a targeted or general audience. When you talk about entertainment or politics or sports, you’re entertaining or engaging an audience while establishing expertise. You may share extremely private details or never talk about your personal life. Either way, you’re establishing a persona that’s relatable to the audience you’re trying to attract. For instance, you may reveal a joke a well-known person shared with you.

By the time you’re out of college for a few years, most people have tried out some variation of each of these approaches to social media. And your approach definitely affects your data security.

The rule is: the bigger the audience you seek, the more you have to think about the information you share.

All of us have to protect our ID, account and phone numbers, our address and our Mother’s maiden name. But if you’re an aspiring Disney star or class president, you have to think about which pictures you take—since you know they’ll all be posted eventually. And George Clooney probably shouldn’t use Foursquare to share his location unless he wants to spend his day shaking hands or filing restraining orders.

We all need to be cautious about sharing details that can be used to scam us. If you achieve, or accidentally achieve, fame, your privacy will become even more precious. So if you want to be internet famous, you need to be savvy about which information you share online—or you’ll have to hire people who are.

2. Secure your systems
Don’t use the default password for your voicemail or anything. Use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. Don’t use work email addresses or passwords for social accounts. Put security software on your PC and your mobile device, if possible. Password protect your Wi-Fi networks. Turn on secure browsing on Facebook. Put a remote lock on your mobile phone. Always lock your PC and mobile devices when you aren’t using them. Keep your system and application software updated. (Our free Health Check makes that easy.) Turn off GPS on your phone and pictures if you don’t want strangers to know your location.

3. Choose services you trust
Any store, service or site that has your data, should have a privacy policy. A key feature of a good privacy policy is that your data will not be shared or sold. By 2011, most reputable online businesses have privacy policies that make that basic promise. But in addition to privacy also have to trust that any organization you trust with your data had security that won’t be compromised. Quality can have a price. If privacy is more important to you than cost, you can buy dedicated email services that won’t serve you ads. Regardless if they charge or not, you should only use reputable online services you trust. Before you enter any data into any website, think, “Do I trust this organization?” If there’s any doubt, ask others what they think.

4. On a social network, your information could be shared with everyone– no matter what your privacy settings are.
Twitter is simple. There are two privacy settings: everyone or “Protect my tweets”. But even if you go with the protected option, your approved followers can still retweet your information to everyone. Facebook’s privacy settings are much more complex. They’re so complex that it almost feels like you should get college credits for really using them. Going with “Friends Only” is a good start, then you have to decide if you want your page on Google (if you don’t want your Facebook page to show up on Google, go to Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites: Edit your settings > Public Search: Edit Settings > Uncheck Enable public search)  and if you want to automatically share your information with other websites.

The safest rule is: get your settings right and still assume that what you post could go public so only share information you wouldn’t mind a future boss (or fan) seeing. NEVER share information that could be used to crack your passwords. Also keep in mind that the information you’re sharing that could be used by identity thieves and social engineers.

5. Be available or don’t
There is a difference between following and friending people. You can follow a lot of people but our brains can only handle around 130 friends. Rejecting or ignoring friend requests can be emotionally difficult, but your privacy is more important than others’ feelings. I say follow anyone on Twitter but on Facebook I’d recommend only befriending people you know or trust. And realize that the person is your friend, not their links. If anyone begins to spam you, let them know the problem. If they keep spamming, unfriend them. If anyone harasses you at all, block their communication. If you’re threatened, contact law enforcement.

You have the right to keep your private data secure while living your digital life to the fullest. All you have to do is respect your own data privacy and do your best to make sure that the people and businesses you interact with do the same.


CC image by Sudhamshu Hebbar

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The Dukes

“The Dukes” – Ask the Experts

Last week, F-Secure Labs published a new study that provides a detailed analysis of a hacking group called “the Dukes”. The Dukes are what’s known as an advanced persistent threat (APT) – a type of hacking campaign in which a group of attackers is able to covertly infiltrate an organization’s IT network and steal data, often over a long period of time while remaining undetected. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the Dukes’ history, and provides evidence that security researchers and analysts say proves the various attacks discussed in the report are attributable to the Duke group. Furthermore, the new information contained in the report strengthens previous claims that the group is operating with support from the Russian government. Mikko Hypponen has said that attacker attribution is important, but it’s also complex and notoriously difficult, so the findings of the report have considerable security implications. I contacted several people familiar with the report to get some additional insights into the Dukes, the research, and what this information means to policy makers responsible for issues pertaining to national cybersecurity. Artturi Lehtiö (AL) is the F-Secure Researcher who headed the investigation and authored the report. He has published previous research on attacks that are now understood to have been executed by the Dukes. Patrik Maldre (PM) is a Junior Research Fellow at the International Center for Defense and Security, and has previously written about the Dukes, and the significance of this threat for global security. Mika Aaltola (MA) is the Program Director for the Global Security research program at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs. He published an article of his own examining how groups like the Dukes fit into the geopolitical ambitions of nations that employ them.   Q: What is the one thing that people must absolutely know about the Dukes? PM: They are using their capabilities in pursuit of Russian strategic interests, including economic and political domination in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Caucasus region, and a return to higher status at the international level. AL: They are a long-standing key part of Russian espionage activity in the cyber domain. MA: The geopolitical intention behind the vast majority of targets. Q: We now know the Dukes are responsible for a number of high profile attacks, and seemingly target information about politics and defense. But what kind of information might they obtain with their attacks, and why would it be valuable? AL: They might obtain information like meeting notes, memos, plans, and internal reports, not to mention email conversations. In essence, the Dukes aim to be a fly on the wall behind the closed doors of cabinets, meeting rooms, and negotiating tables. PM: The targets of the Dukes include government ministries, militaries, political think tanks, and parliaments. The information that can be gained from these organizations includes, among other things, sensitive communication among high-level officials, details of future political postures, data about strategic arms procurement plans, compromising accounts of ongoing intelligence operations, positions regarding current diplomatic negotiations, future positioning of strategic military contingents, plans for future economic investments, and internal debates about policies such as sanctions. MA: The targets are high value assets. Two things are important: data concerning the plans and decisions taken by the targeted organizations. Second, who is who in the organizations, what are the key decision-making networks, what possible weaknesses can be used and exploited, and how the organization can be used to gain access to other organizations. Q: The Dukes are typically classified as an APT. What makes the Dukes different from other APTs? MA: APT is a good term to use with the Dukes. However, there are some specific characteristics. The multi-year campaigning with relatively simple tools sets Dukes apart from e.g. Stuxnet. Also, the Dukes are used in psychological warfare. The perpetrators can even benefit from they actions becoming public as long as some deniability remains. AL: The sophistication of the Dukes does not come as much from the sophistication of their own methods as it comes from their understanding of their targets’ methods, what their targets’ weaknesses are, and how those can be exploited. PM: They are among the most capable, aggressive, and determined actors that have been publicly identified to be serving Russian strategic interests. The Dukes provide a very wide array of different capabilities that can be chosen based on the targets, objectives, and constraints of a particular operation. They appear to be acting in a brazen manner that indicates complete confidence in their immunity from law enforcement or domestic oversight by democratic bodies. Q: There are 9 distinctive Duke toolsets. Why would a single group need 9 different malware toolsets instead of just 1? AL: The Dukes attempt to use their wide arsenal of tools to stay one-step ahead of the defenders by frequently switching the toolset used. MA: They are constantly developing the tools and using them for different targets. Its an evolutionary process meant to trick different “immunity” systems. Much like drug cocktails can trick the HIV virus. PM: The different Duke toolsets provide flexibility and can be used to complement each other. For example, if various members of the Dukes are used to compromise a particular target and the infection is discovered, the incident responders may be led to believe that quarantines and remediation have been successful even though another member of the Dukes is still able to extract valuable information. Q: Many people reading this aren’t involved in geopolitics. What do you think non-policy makers can take away from this whitepaper? AL: This research aims to provide a unique window into the world of the Dukes, allowing people not traditionally involved with governmental espionage or hacking to gauge for themselves how their lives may be affected by activity like the Dukes. PM: It is important for people to understand the threats that are associated with these technological developments. The understanding of cybersecurity should grow to the point where it is on par with the wider public’s understanding of other aspects of international security, such as military strategy or nuclear non-proliferation. This knowledge is relevant for the exercise of fundamental liberties that are enjoyed in democratic societies, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, as well as of basic rights such as voting in elections. MA: The geopolitical intent is clearly present in this activity. However, the developments in this realm affects other types of cyber-attacks. Same methods spread. There is cross-fertilization, as in the case of Stuxnet that was soon adapted for other purposes by other groups.   F-Secure’s Business Security Insider blog recently posted a quick breakdown on how the Dukes typically execute their attacks, and what people can do to prevent becoming a victim of the Dukes or similar threats. Check it out for some additional information about the Dukes.

September 22, 2015
graveyard, RIP Flash, Is Flash dead

RIP Flash? Has Chrome signed Flash’s death warrant?

The first day of September may go down in internet security history -- and not just because it's the day when F-Secure Labs announced that its blog, which was the first antivirus industry blog ever, has moved to a new home. It's also the day that Google's Chrome began blocking flash ads from immediately loading, with the goal of moving advertisers to develop their creative in HTML5. Google is joining Amazon, whose complete rejection of Flash ads also begins on September 1. "This is a very good move on Amazon’s part and hopefully other companies will follow suit sooner than later," F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan wrote in August when Amazon made its announcement. "Flash-based ads are now an all-too-common security risk. Everybody will be better off without them." Last month, Adobe issued its 12th update in 2015 for the software addressing security and stability concerns. An estimated 90 percent of rich media ads are delivered through Flash. Having the world's largest online retailer reject your ad format is a significant nudge away from the plugin. But it would be difficult to overstate the impact of Chrome actively encouraging developers to drop Flash. About 1 out of every 2 people, 51.74 percent, who access the internet through a desktop browser do it via Chrome, according to StatCounter. This makes it the world's most popular web interface by far.   Facebook's Chief Security Officer has also recently called for the end of Flash and YouTube moved away from the format by default in January. “Newer technologies are available and becoming more popular anyway, so it would really be worth the effort to just speed up the adoption of newer, more secure technologies, and stop using Flash completely," F-Secure Senior Researcher Timo Hirvonen told our Business Insider blog. So what's keeping Flash alive? Massive adoption and advertisers. “Everyone in every agency’s creative department grew up using Adobe’s creative suite, so agencies still have deep benches of people who specialize in this,”Media Kitchen managing partner Josh Engroff told Digiday. “Moving away from it means new training and calibration.” And Flash does have some advantages over the format that seems fated to replace it. "HTML5 ads may be more beautiful, and are perceived to be more secure, but the files can be a lot larger than Flash," Business Insider's Laura O'Reilly wrote. In markets, stability can breed instability and it seems that our familiarity and reliance on Flash has resulted in unnecessary insecurity for our data. Has Flash hit its moment when its dominance rapidly evaporates? We can have hope. "I sincerely hope this is the end of Flash," Timo told us. Cheers, Sandra [Image by Sean MacEntee | Flickr]    

September 1, 2015