Is Facebook Dangerous?

Is Facebook Dangerous?I read a white paper today that pointed out some features that might make Facebook dangerous to the not-so-savvy user.

At first, I thought the author was simply paranoid.  As I considered his words, however, I started getting paranoid.  I started asking myself IS Facebook dangerous?  And if it is, should I comment on it in a blog?

Ultimately, I decided to pass the information along.  It’s not likely to be something you haven’t heard before, but on the off chance that it IS, or that it helps you to become a more savvy Facebook user, then the post is worth the effort!

Brad Dinerman writes in “Social networking and security risks” about the astonishing rise in popularity of social networking sites.  He mentions Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as examples, though we all know that there are many more sites that could be included in that list.

Social networking sites can be useful for professional networking, job searches, a means to increase sales revenues, a tool to keep the public informed, a way to reconnect with friends and family, and a host of other things.

But there are inherent security concerns that could put your information at risk and that might make social networking sites like Facebook dangerous.

Facebook Updates

As an example of these security concerns, Dinerman notes that at the top of a user’s Facebook profile is the Update field, which allows the user to past a sentence or a paragraph on any topic at any time.

Some examples of Facebook updates might be:

  • “Just received a job offer!”
  • “Tired of all the rain.”
  • “Looking forward to the family vacation next week at Disney World.”

Dinerman points out that while these updates seem innocuous enough, the third update could be cause for concern.  In it, you’ve just told all your friends, as well as their friends, that you will be away from home for a full week.  Dinerman says that this is tantamount to posting a large sign on the main road that shouts “Empty House” for passers-by to see.  High-tech alarm system and caring neighbors aside, you’re probably better off not to create such a temptation for strangers who might consider helping themselves to that new flat-screen TV you just purchased.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Me

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve probably received a message from a FB friend called “Twenty Things You Didn’t Know About Me.”  You’re invited to read it, create one for yourself and then notify others in turn.  The point is to answer the questions listed so that friends can learn more about you.

Some of the questions are:

  • “What was my most embarrassing moment?”
  • “Have I ever played hooky?”
  • “What was the name of my first elementary school?”
  • “What was my favorite pet’s name?”

In ordinary conversation with friends and colleagues, answering questions like these might not give you pause.  But the last two questions, while seemingly innocent, are identical to questions that are asked as part of a set of “secret questions” that you need to answer if you forget your credentials for accessing your bank account, your Amazon account, your work’s Human Resources system, etc.

You’ll recall that when setting up accounts, in addition to creating user names and passwords, you’re often asked to provide answers to a set of “secret questions.”  If you forget your credentials, you can request a new username and password by correctly answering the “secret questions” you originally set up.  Once you do, you’ll have full access to the system you’re trying to enter; access that probably contains very personal and sensitive information.

Now consider, Dinerman says, the “secret” questions you are often asked to answer when setting up those sensitive accounts:  “What was the name of your first elementary school?”  “What was the name of your favorite pet?”

It’s possible that by answering these Facebook questionnaires, you may be inadvertently exposing yourself to identity theft.  Is that risk worth the short-lived amusement that a Facebook questionnaire provides?  Probably not.

If you still want to participate in these types of questionnaires, go ahead, but be very careful about the type of information that you’re providing and how that information could be used if it fell into the wrong hands.

Applications

Finally, Dinerman address Facebook Applications.  Facebook offers thousands of apps that users can install and run on their computers.  The apps include calendars that remind friends when it’s your birthday, tools to send friends online greeting cards, quizzes and more.

Although these Facebook apps may look harmless (and most of them probably are), there are some that may deliver malicious content to your computer.  This is true not only of Facebook, but of other social networking sites and to the Internet in general.

Before downloading from the web or opening email attachments (or installing and running Facebook apps or any other app), make sure to have a functional firewall, as well as up-to-date antivirus/anti-malware software installed on your computer.  And only install and run applications (whether from Facebook or anyplace else) if they are from a trusted source.

So, is Facebook dangerous?  I wouldn’t say that it is deliberately so, but I am also reminded of an old and apropos adage:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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