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Information Security Best Practice: avoiding social media slip ups

Posted November 04, 2014 by Jenny Green

These days, if you don’t have a social network account of some sort you are definitely considered to be from the age of the dinosaurs. And it’s not just for the young and trendy, oh no! There are plenty of silver surfers out there – your granny could even be one of them, and she might have more ‘friends’ than you!

In a world obsessed with social networks and gathering as many followers as possible on Twitter and Facebook, are we aware of –and do we even care? – who is really ‘following’ us?  As this recent BBC report highlights, most of us have a long way to go in understanding the full implications of living under the permanent scrutiny that social media has enabled.


Cyberspace is where we seem to feel comfortable communicating not only with our friends and family but with complete strangers too. In the real world we’re much less willing to talk to strangers and would never reveal our PIN numbers or passwords to anyone but why is it that online we reveal all sorts of intimate information about ourselves?

We might convince ourselves that only our friends can read our private thoughts and rants and see our holiday snaps and selfies but with the amount of media coverage on internet security breaches, account hacking, identity theft and cyberbullying, you’d have to be very na├»ve to believe that nobody else is ‘looking’ at you, innocently or otherwise.

The internet as a vehicle of worldwide communication is a fantastic tool. Instant access to news and events, to stats and facts, to debates and petitions, makes us better informed. The internet is a wonderful and powerful medium for disseminating information; it’s fun and informative and the world would be much less accessible without it.

Unfortunately, with anything so powerful, there is always going to be a down side, and those so inclined will take advantage of so much readily available and easily accessible information and personal data.

Sadly, we innocently play into the hands of these cyber-criminals. We put our birthday and our home town on our social media sites, we document our every move with tweets and notifications, we say where we work, where and when we go on holiday, where our children go to school. We post private photos, which friends of friends, and eventually people we don’t know, can look at and download or pass on to other strangers.

And it’s not just criminals we need to worry about.  The BBC article cites the example of having a medical insurance policy which states you are a non-smoker; however when you fall ill in later life, if there is a single photograph of you on a social media site that shows you holding a cigarette, how would your insurance provider react?

Here are four common sense precautions to keep safe online:

  1. Be careful about publishing any identifying information about yourself in your profile or your posts, such as phone numbers, home address or pictures of your home, school or workplace, birthday.
  2. Remember that many companies check current or prospective employees’ social networking pages, so be careful what you say, what pictures you post and what your profile says about you.
  3. Think before you post anything – will it cause you or someone else embarrassment, and could it be perceived as abusive or offensive to others?  The internet can serve as a permanent reminder of things we may later wish we could forget!
  4. Don’t let peer pressure or bullying convince you to do something you are not comfortable with, or know is wrong.

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