In the current digital age, people tend to share almost every aspect of their lives on social media: birthdays, hobbies, family members, locations, personality, political leanings, possessions, relationships, daily routines, rants, and more. As humans, we have an innate desire to share all aspects of our lives in search of connection with others. Social media provides a platform to define ourselves. However, when clicking that post button, we may not realize how sharing on social media can impact personal security.
Why is social media a threat?
Social media has evolved tremendously over the past two decades. Beginning with Friendster and Myspace in the early 2000s, followed by Facebook and Instagram, social media platforms continue to rank among the foremost visited websites every year. Over time, several clear threats have emerged from the social media landscape. One of the biggest dangers of posting on social media is oversharing. Posting on social media makes it considerably easier for strangers to quickly learn details about you – from hobbies to friends to where you live. Sure, when you get a new follow request you can see the name and view the account (if they are public), but do you really know who they are? You may think a simple post is harmless, but what you might be potentially providing criminals with many facets of your life. Think about it: many of us like to do a little digging on people we know, to see what they’re up to. Bad actors, such as scammers or stalkers, approach their prospective victims using the same pool of information. Remember Kim Kardashian being robbed of $10 million worth of jewelry in Paris? The thieves noticed pictures of her jewelry all over her social media and were able to locate her.
Oversharing can lead to a range of damaging results. When oversharing on social media, your interests become known to those looking to steal information. This is exactly what criminals are looking for in phishing attempts. Phishing is a fraudulent practice of sending emails claiming to be from a reputable company to prompt individuals to reveal personal information, inducing individuals to provide user data such as passwords and credit card numbers. It is important to make a habit of reporting any phishing schemes you come across to the Federal Trade Commission, whether on personal or work accounts.
Recently, social media has become a facilitator of impersonation and imposter scams, which are a top form of fraud. Creating a social media account is effortless and can be done with only an email address. Criminals have learned how to make malicious imposter accounts to scam those close to the victim. Imposters will study a profile and essentially replicate it with the slightest deviation in spelling of the username to act as if they are the person they are claiming to be. These imposters will include malicious links or fake contact information with the hope that your friends and family will reveal personal information or send money. Criminals have more frequently attempted virtual kidnappings in recent years. In virtual kidnappings, an anonymous person calls and tells someone a family member has been kidnapped and plays fake screams or cries for help, attempting to make you believe someone has been kidnapped and pay ransom. Should you come across an imposter account or be contacted by a scammer, it is critical to report the account to the social network and cooperate with a takedown service or contact law enforcement to report a virtual kidnapping scam.
The danger of social media is that the aforementioned risks can compound at a rapid pace, allowing you to lose control of the situation before you have a chance to take action against malicious actors. This can result in damage to your reputation. In the age of technology, social media allows you to portray yourself virtually. If a potential employer Googles you, they will likely be directed to your social media accounts. If they can find you, a stranger can too. When deciding whether to post a picture, ask yourself “Would I want a stranger to see this?” and “Am I oversharing?” If you’re providing enough information in your posts that a stranger could figure out who you are close with, where you live, hobbies, possessions, travel schedule, and when you work, then the answer is NO – you should not post it.
Online activities can impact physical security.
As evidenced by recent violent protests, demonstrations, and political movements across the world, the use of a few hundred characters or some targeted memes have demonstrated the influential power they can wield over social media users and even societies. As demonstrated in recent proceedings regarding the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, President Donald Trump manipulated Twitter to mobilize his supporters, resulting in hundreds of injuries, multiple deaths, and damage to the Capitol. Donald Trump proved the power of a 280-character limit. Other examples are the plight of the Rohingya in Malaysia, the 2009 “Twitter Revolution” in Iran, and even situations as bizarre as Pizzagate.
It is important to be conscious about the role posts can have in creating threats in the physical world. As mentioned above, what you show or say on social media gives other people a peek into your life. What happens next is up to who is viewing the information you are divulging. A simple two-sentence post on Instagram about an upcoming vacation might reveal that you will be out of the country for multiple days, leaving your home empty. Even documenting your daily habits and schedule can give people an idea of where and when you’ll be, making an easy target for a robbery – or perhaps a kidnapping. As demonstrated through the events of January 6, someone with a large following expressing displeasure with a specific topic can incite violence exclusively with their words. The power of words has been known since time immemorial; however, the age of social media has provided a platform and amplification for words to increase in power, reach, and negative impact.
Why should your business’s digital environment be professionally monitored?
The reality today is that threat perceptions are changing with the advancement of technology. The security industry and law enforcement face an unprecedented time of physical threats originating in social media. The industry is quickly learning to better leverage social media to keep up with the bad guys. Missing, however, is the consensus among users that behavior on social media must change. Corporate security managers are leveraging technology to scour posts across social networks and even the deep web with client-specific keywords and phrases to assess threats, find security risks, and investigate cyber stalking.
For example, Interfor utilizes proprietary databases with keyword-tracking features as a critical step in social media monitoring. These AI-powered tools allow for the critical monitoring of deep web sources like chan sites and message boards that searches on traditional sites like Facebook would overlook. The monitoring of deep and dark websites is dangerous and can result in the theft of your information by third parties. Private security professionals have the resources to safely monitor threats across all platforms.
Be safe on social media
Regardless of who you are or how public your life is, practice safe social media usage. Following a few simple practices can play a big part in ensuring your own security.
(1) Make your account private. This ensures that people who view your account cannot see your photos unless they are followers. In addition, even if you use hashtags on a private account, your content will not show up in public feeds like Instagram.
(2) Only let people you know follow you. Your lifestyle, possessions, photos, friends, family, and relationships should not be available to complete strangers. This is one of the most effective ways to keep your life secure.
(3) Do not post photos that show valuable items or show your house is vacant. Posting photos with valuable items you own and advertising extended absences from your home provides potential criminals with easy targets that are unaware of the risk they created with a social media post.
(4) Check your privacy settings. Each social network has unique privacy settings. Read them thoroughly to see what information you’re sharing and with whom. Setting the strongest privacy setting and sharing content only with those you choose is much safer than sharing with everyone on your followers list. Just because they follow you doesn’t mean they need to know everything you do.