The Key to your Social Media Cyber Security:
Keep the Bad Guys Guessing

From teens to retirees, those with wealth to those barely scraping by, no one is immune from cyber criminals. Protect your personal information and be more aware of your social media activity with these six tips. 

By Deborah Guild, Chief Security Officer

If you’ve never taken the time to do an internet search on yourself, you just may be surprised about how many details of your life – past and present – are readily available to the public. Marry that information with even more personal tidbits of your daily movement or activities shared on social media channels, and you are practically handing the keys to your kingdom over to the bad guys, saying, “Come on over and help yourself, I’m away for the day!”

Social media can be a valuable tool that builds relationships and connects you to great resources for learning and personal or business development. But, those rewards also come with risks when you volunteer information, such as family relationships, geographic location and travel plans.

From teens to retirees, those with wealth to those barely scraping by, no one is immune from cyber criminals. Simply put, they want what you have.

If someone compromises your social media account they could potentially pose as you, use available information to guess security questions, or possibly pivot to other accounts with shared passwords. Depending on the information they acquire, they could open accounts in your name or make purchases. All of these can result in hits to your credit score and damage to your reputation.

Social Media Dos & Don'ts

Protect your personal information and be more aware of your social media activity with these tips:

  • Choose smart security questions – Your mother’s maiden name? Seriously! Think of a better security question that may not be researched online. Publicly available information may include birthdates, the name of your high school, your home town, etc. How many people know your favorite color or food? Even if a bad guy tried to guess, there are countless options to choose from.
  • Boost the strength of your password – Remember, keep the bad guys guessing; don’t make it easy for them to guess your password. A strong password contains some unique combination of special characters (i.e., #, $, @, ?, !), upper-case alphabet characters, lower-case alphabet characters, and/or numbers. Avoid using simple adjacent keyboard combinations like “1234” or “abcd.” And for passwords – the longer the better. This helps to put one more layer of defense between your personal information and the bad guys.
  • Do not post work-related information – You now know to limit personal information on social media, but the same guidance applies to details about your work posted on professional networking sites, particularly information like technology systems used, your direct reports or even your specific job responsibilities. Criminals look for information about a company's technology and a specific individual's position to find ways to infiltrate companies, often by posing as a company executive in malicious emails.
  • If you don’t recognize a link, don’t click it – Has a long-time professional acquaintance uncharacteristically sent you a link to a “free cruise” or video of whales they thought you might like (but you’ve never discussed whales)? Approach with caution. Cyber criminals are well aware that users are more likely to trust links that are sent by “friends.” Unfortunately, your “friend’s” account may be compromised. Reach out to the friend via another channel just to confirm the message is authentic and/or alert them to the compromise. The whale video can wait until you confirm the sender.
  • Limit “friends” or connections on social media - If you don’t know a person, it may not be a good idea to accept an invitation to connect, especially on a social media channel where you share personal or private information. Identity thieves often create fake profiles as a way to target individuals and gain information from them. Occasionally review your connections or friends to ensure you have a good idea of who is able to view what you post to social media.
  • Be careful of applications that run on social media – Many third-party applications (apps not produced by the social media provider) can leak personal information or contain malicious software. Only install third-party applications you absolutely need and only from trusted sources.

Bottom line: Assume that whatever you post on social media could become public. If and when you do post to social media, use available security settings whenever possible to ensure the posts are viewable to only family or friends, and never set to “public.” Most reputable social media sites give you ways to protect your privacy from prying eyes. You should take full advantage of all such capabilities. At a minimum, remove any personal information such as birthday, maiden name, phone number and address. Set all photographs to friends/family only and limit personal postings to only friends and family. Lastly, sort followers and friends into proper access groups.

Deborah Guild is chief security officer at PNC


Visit our security & privacy page to learn more »

Deborah Guild
Deborah Guild says a social media breach could potentially impact your finances or reputation, so it’s important to secure your accounts

According to a 2017 report by social media security firm ZeroFOX:

  • The number of social media impersonators grew 11x between December 2014 and December 2016.
  • Attacks span all social media platforms, but are most popular on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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These articles are for general information purposes only and are not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting or financial advice. PNC urges its customers to do independent research and to consult with financial and legal professionals before making any financial decisions.

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