Data thieves prowl social network sites

The world has turned into a small village where online communication has become as easy as talking to someone face to face. However, unlike face to face communication, it is a challenge to verify the identity of the person on the other side while communicating online.

A new trend of online communication that has gained popularity among people in recent time is communicating through social networking websites. There are hundreds of such websites that are developed in order to connect people around the world.

These websites are mostly popular among teenagers who are interested in finding new friends and connecting with their old pals. Some of the most common social networking websites are Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. The rising popularity of such websites is putting an end to privacy where sharing personal information with a stranger is becoming a norm. It has also raised the number of identity theft cases. We all remember when we were kids our moms told us not to talk to strangers. We have been taught that privacy is an important part of our lives and to protect our privacy we should only share personal information with people we trust.

In our daily lives most of us only trust family and friends; however, on the internet trust has a completely different meaning for most people. The internet is a community, like the one we live in where we communicate with different people with different backgrounds.

Peoples' habits change while on the internet, most of the people trust everyone on the internet. Most social networkers have posted at least three pieces of information about themselves such as their full name, date of birth, and address on their accounts.

Such information would be more than enough for any cyber criminal to steal and use it for impersonating those social networkers. Most people add friends of their friends because they trust their friends and they have added those people because their other friends have added them. This chain of trust is endless and often it starts with a scam. None of us would follow such a notion in real life, then why do we follow it on the internet?

A new trend of identity theft has started through fake social networking profiles. Cyber criminals are stealing people's personal information and opening networking accounts using these stolen identities. A solution in this case would be creating your account in major social networking websites before someone else does. Also always be cautious when accepting friend requests.

Due to raise of political complications in many countries, social networking websites are used by many to post political messages. Politicians communicate with their supporters through Facebook and Twitter. Nowadays, besides posting personal information, individuals post information about their political views. Any extra information about beliefs and views of people can help cyber criminals in manipulating those people and tricking them into getting what they want. Cyber criminals pretend to be supporters of a political party and they get close to people within the same party. Many people get fooled and reveal a lot of personal information.

Many individuals have also started their personal blogs where they post different sorts of information. Once the information is posted on the internet, everyone has access to it. Unfortunately, most people post personal information on these blogs and use it as their diaries. Diaries were always private for a reason; some information is too personal and shouldn't be shared with the entire world. Think about your privacy before starting a blog about yourself where you share with the entire world information about yourself, your family, and friends.

Due to popularity of social networking websites and blogs among individuals, many identity theft cases have been reported around the world. It is the responsibility of societies to educate people about the threats of social networking websites and blogs. Many of these social networking websites have security features that people are not aware of. Information security awareness should be a mandatory subject added to the school curriculum.

While kids learn about computers, they must also learn how to protect their personal information. Since education always starts at home, we must educate parents to assure that they pass the same information to their children. Security awareness programmes will help in protecting individuals, including our children from theft scams.

The writer is the incident response and threat analyst at aeCERT. The views expressed are his own


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