Digital Self Defense for Technical Communicators, Part Two

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Digital Self Defense for Technical Communicators, Part Two

Digital Self Defense for Technical Communicators was first published in the Society for Technical Communication‘s Intercom magazine in November 2010

Best Practices for Safer Social Networking

Organized crime is increasingly targeting users of social networking sites. Many computer criminals uses these sites to distribute viruses and malware, to find private information people have posted publicly, and to find targets for phishing/social engineering schemes.

Recognize and avoid phishing attempts. Phishing is a common technique in identity theft. We’ve all received phishing emails or instant messages that appear to link to a legitimate site. These emails and websites are designed to capture personal information, such as bank account passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers. They usually try to impart a sense of urgency, so that users will respond quickly. A 2009 study by The Intrepidus Group, a security consultancy, found that 23% of users worldwide will fall for a phishing attempt.

Detecting phishing attempts is not as straightforward as it used to be. Phishing emails once were easy to recognize because of poor spelling and grammar—something that most technical communicators would spot at a glance. Now phishing emails are often indistinguishable from official correspondence.

Use privacy settings. Many social networking sites such as Facebook allow the user to configure privacy settings to limit access to the information they post on the sites. However, default privacy settings are typically set to a level of access that is more open than you might prefer. Privacy controls may change, so it’s important to check your privacy settings periodically to ensure that the settings still protect information in the way that you intended.

Don’t post personal information online. It should be common sense, but the easiest way to keep your information private is to not post it online. Don’t post your full birth date, address, phone numbers, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask friends to remove embarrassing or sensitive information about you from their posts, either.

Be wary of others. Research by Sophos in 2007 found that 87 of 200 Facebook users receiving a friend request were willing to befriend a plastic green frog named Freddi Staur (an anagram of ID Fraudster). Freddi Staur gained access to their Facebook profiles and found that 41% of those approached revealed some type of personal information. Depending on the type of information you post on Facebook, it may not be the best idea to accept friend requests from strangers.

Search for your name. Use an Internet search engine to find out what personal information is easily accessible. Set up a Google Alert to see what new information about you appears online.

Keeping your information out of the wrong hands can be fairly easy if you think about what information you’re sharing before you post it.


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