July 3, 2018

This summer, as you snap selfies and share them while on your travels and adventures, be sure to remind your kids (and yourself) to share safely.  Social media keeps us connected with family and friends, but it’s increasingly fraught with risks such as online scams, privacy leaks, identity theft and more. To understand people’s attitudes about social media safety, we recently ran a Twitter poll, receiving more than 33,000 responses to one question: “Are you worried about the safety of your data when using social media?”

The breakdown of answers is as follows:

  • No: 35%
  • Yes: 32%
  • Sometimes: 33%

While it’s great to see a majority concerned to some extent about social media safety, we were surprised to see so many not worried. Perhaps there’s still some confusion over what “staying safe” even means on social media, so we’ll highlight them here.

Where are the dangers?

As we and our children use sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to exchange messages, update friends, and share photos and videos this summer, we open ourselves up to some risk: there are cyber-criminals, online bullies, stalkers and trolls, and even people we know sharing things about us to those we may not know. For those of you still not worried about your family’s safety on social media, let’s take a look at the top risks:

  1. Over-sharing information: Whatever site you’re on, if you post too much personal information into a public feed there could be trouble ahead. Data which might seem pretty innocuous to you could give identity fraudsters some vital extra info. This could help them hijack or open new online accounts in your name, or send convincing phishing emails asking for your bank details.
    Similarly, information posted publicly on social media could be viewed by prospective employers, law enforcers, credit agencies and even the government. When it comes to your kids, you’ll also want to protect them from the ever-present threat of online trolls and cyber-bullies. Posting the fact that you are currently away from your home can also open your family up to risk; it’s always hard to tell who ultimately sees whatever we are sharing on social media.
  2. Third-party apps: The recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal blew the lid on a whole new social media threat. Signing up to third-party apps could result in sensitive profile data being shared with outsiders and advertisers. Many of you may be extremely uncomfortable with this, especially if it’s your children’s data being sold.
  3. Malicious spam and scams: As social media users we tend to trust messages or posts that come from our friends. The bad guys know this and are also adept at hijacking our friends’ accounts to send us malicious links, phishing scams and more. In December we spotted a particularly pernicious malware called Digmine which was spread via video files on Facebook Messenger.
  4. Account hijacking: Our accounts themselves are under constant attack. Some may be looking to hack your account to spread inflammatory messages under your name. Others might want to hijack it in order to send malware to your friends and contacts, tricking them into downloading or clicking on something they would not have otherwise. Passwords remain the weak link in the security chain: they’re easy for the bad guys to phish, guess or even crack with modern tools.
  5. Untrustworthy information or people: It’s getting increasingly harder to tell who or what we can all trust online, so we need to be mindful as we scroll through our feeds sitting on a beach somewhere that we’re not hastily liking and sharing things we haven’t double-checked.  Vacation time may be a good time to just take a break from doing any of it at all; but when you return, always take the time to verify things you are liking and sharing, and be sure to teach your kids to do the same.

Staying safe

For those 65% of you who are worried, or sometimes worried, about your safety on social media, and even some of the 35% who may have changed your mind, the good news is that there are some concrete steps you can take to stay safe:

  • Change your privacy settings: This will help to limit the amount of personal information you share publicly. Facebook recently made it easier for users to do this while most Twitter settings are private by default. Make a habit of checking these settings often, and remind your kids to do the same.
  • Look for third-party privacy tools: Our Trend Micro Privacy Scanner will further help users to limit the damage of over-sharing via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn in just a few clicks.
  • Talk early and often with your kids: Children may have a natural aptitude for online technologies but they can also be overly trusting on social media. It’s important to educate them about the risks and what sensible behavior looks like — just like you would point out the dangers of crossing the road without looking.
  • Consider parental controls: While talking to your kids is vital, the truth is that they’re probably out of the house for more hours of the day than they are under your roof. This is when parental control tools can help, allowing you to filter the content and programs they can access on their mobile device and at home, as well as set time limits on internet access. Trend Micro Security offers just such a parental control feature.
  • Install security software: It goes without saying that all mobile devices should be protected like the family PC — with advanced anti-malware from a proven industry expert. This will block malicious links and other social media threats.
  • Switch on two-factor authentication: This is a feature offered by all social networks to enhance your account security. It will make it much harder for hackers to break into your account so be sure to switch it on whenever possible. It means that if a third party tries to log-in as you they’ll be asked to provide something uniquely in your possession in order to access it, usually a one-time passcode emailed or sent to your phone.
  • Use a password manager: These tools have been designed to generates secure, unique and tough-to-hack passwords for each of your online accounts. They also securely store and recall them so you don’t have to remember each password. Trend Micro Password Manager protects your account passwords across PCs, Macs, Android and iOS.

We should all be concerned about the safety of our data and our children’s data on social media. But with a few simple steps, there are things you can do today to minimize that risk and ensure you and your family can be safe on social media, this summer and all year long.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.