Scroll safely: 3 top cybersecurity tips for social media cybersecurity

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For many of us, social media is a part of our daily lives — and it makes sense. Humans are natural storytellers who like to connect and share with others, which is why social media is so appealing. While platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok have put our social circles at our fingertips, they also pose cybersecurity risks. Here, the team at ESET explains the 3 major social media cybersecurity threats, and how we can stay safe while sharing posts and scrolling our feeds.

1) Oversharing sensitive information

The purpose of social media is to share your life with people, whether they’re friends or family you know “in real life” or strangers you want to connect with for one reason or another. The issue is, people tend to overshare, and sometimes subconsciously. Everyone’s information has value, and the more details we offer on social media, the more data points cybercriminals can draw on to commit identity theft or other cybercrimes. For example, posting your phone number, email address, street name or even your school or place of work can open you up to hackers. Often, people recycle this kind of information across multiple platforms. They might use the email address they signed up to Instagram with for more sensitive online activities, like banking, or they might set security questions based on key locations from their life. 

Cybercriminals can piece together a profile using very little information about you, which is why it’s important to keep your social media free from sensitive information. Identity theft is serious: if a hacker is successful, they can access your bank accounts, apply for credit cards or loans and go as far as to set up a business.  

Solution: Before you post, ask yourself: Could a malicious actor use this information to find out more about me? If the answer’s yes, it might be a good idea to tweak your content. You could also consider setting your profile to private and deleting people you don’t know and/or trust from your friends list. In other words, delete acquaintances, strangers and anyone who you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing personal details with in the real world. These are some of the most effective cybersecurity tips for social media.

2) Offering password hints

On a similar note, it’s common for people to use the same password across multiple accounts and choose passwords using personal information. Think birthdays, pet’s names or favourite sports teams. While this makes it easier to remember your passwords, it can also make it easier for hackers to guess them, leaving you vulnerable to a breach. All they have to do is crack one password to tap into multiple accounts and potentially access personal, sensitive and financial information.

Solution: To combat this, aim to create a unique, complex password for every single account you use. Each password should be made up of 12 characters or more, and contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Try to use phrases or sentences instead of standalone words, and avoid any identifying details, like your puppy’s name! Once you have strong passwords in place, set a reminder to change them regularly — every three months is a good guide. While you’re at it, activate two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security.

If this sounds like a lot to memorise, don’t worry! A password manager is one of the best investments you can make in your social media cybersecurity, especially if you’re an avid social media user. These managers act as a vault, generating, storing and encrypting passwords for you. They also notify you if one of your passwords has been compromised, so you know to change them ASAP.

Top tip: Be careful about filling out quizzes or responding to memes on social media, too. For example, a quiz asking you to combine your favourite colour and mother’s maiden name to “find your secret agent personality” could have been created by bad actors to guess your answers to security questions.


3) Handing over information for phishing emails

Phishing emails are becoming more authentic, and social media may be playing a part in that. For an email scam to be successful, it needs to appear to be sent from a trustworthy source, contain familiar logos and content, and inspire some sort of action — whether that’s clicking on a link or downloading an attachment.

People are more likely to open and reply to emails that are sent from friends, family members or known companies. The problem? Many social media users share the names of and information about their connections freely, which can make it easier for hackers to create compelling phishing emails.

Solution: Again, the best way to secure your accounts is to set them to private for social media security awareness. The less publicly available information a cybercriminal can piece together about you, the less likely they will be able to create a realistic email scam.

It’s also worth learning good cybersecurity habits when it comes to emails. Avoid opening emails with a suspicious subject line or emails from people or companies you don’t know. If you do open an unsolicited message, comb through it carefully for signs of a phishing scam. These include poor spelling or grammar, odd turns of phrase, or content that preys on emotions or inspires a sense of urgency. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Above all, don’t click on any links or attachments and instead, report the email as spam.

Scroll your feeds with peace of mind

Social media isn’t going anywhere, and neither are hackers trying to take advantage of it to launch cyber attacks. To protect your accounts and data, consider investing in a sophisticated antivirus that works against social media cybersecurity threats. ESET Internet Security and ESET Mobile Security help to prevent a diverse range of cyber attacks, such as identity theft, malware, ransomware and phishing scams. 

As part of offering a multi-layered defence, they scan attachments and images for viruses and stop hackers from accessing your system, router and webcam. You can install either of these programs on multiple devices, including laptops and smartphones, so you can use social media safely wherever you are.