As with all new platforms, social networks have their pros and cons, bringing benefits to be enjoyed while raising issues to be addressed.
There’s no doubt the social media giants Facebook and Twitter have revolutionised the way people across the globe connect, engage and share information with each other.
However, this open exchange of information has brought fresh privacy and security concerns. Despite its obvious virtues, social sharing has a dark side.
Of course, we can’t just blame the technology itself for the problems plaguing social networks. After all, computers only do what we tell them. Unfortunately, it seems that for every ingenious app developer driving innovation forward there is a technically savvy cybercriminal waiting to exploit security blind spots.
The large social media networks are constantly developing new ways to address privacy and security weaknesses, but regrettably these blind spots only get highlighted when crimes are committed, users are victimised and lessons are learned the hard way.
Anybody with a Facebook or Twitter account will be aware that spam and viruses are widespread. Maintaining security and privacy defences by regularly updating anti-virus software, running frequent scans and removing cookies can stop many threats, but cybercriminals have devised some devious ways to fool people into clicking their links or entering personal details.
Phishing emails often replicate the emails of social network sites, featuring a fake log-in page almost identical to the real one, which is quite easy to pull off with Facebook’s simple blue and white page layout. Less than cautious recipients entering their passwords give cybercriminals access to their account and personal details and the repercussions can be severe.
Social network users are constantly reminded that they should only click links they are sure go through to trustworthy sites, which can be checked by hovering over the link. However, it’s the creative way dangerous links are presented, how cybercriminals lower people’s guards, that leads to viruses being spread rapidly.
Cybercriminals are even mimicking security updates from the social networks. A recent Twitter virus took the form of a fake Tweet from Twitter telling the account holder their security had been breached. Clicking the fake link made this a reality and sent the virus on to all of the account holder’s friends and followers.
If people can’t trust messages they think are from Facebook and Twitter who can they trust? Their friends of course, but cybercriminals have worked that out too. This has resulted in spam and viruses that come as a recommendation from a friend and are passed on to the entire friend list of every account holder who opens the message and clicks the link.
Despite ever tightening privacy settings, it’s disconcerting to know cybercriminals can obtain enough personal information from our social network profiles to personalise scams and attempt identity theft. Even more troubling is the fact that new computer and smartphone technology and software, such as enhanced GPS location and personalised internet searches, could potentially help cybercriminals obtain more personal information.
Social media networks incorporating location based services will need to strengthen security and privacy settings to meet the fresh challenges of new software whose very aim is to collect and use personal data to improve search capabilities and customise services.
Now that Google has its own social network Google+, we can only hope the social media triumvirate of Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have the development teams necessary to guide social networks safely into the next phase of the internet Web 3.0., without social media becoming an even more attractive target for wrong doers.