The most valuable resource today is not oil, water or fresh air – it’s data! An article in The Economist recently outlined just how valuable this resource is to organisations the world over. It’s alarming how data mining can influence people and hence dictate real events. Now answer this, where can one find unlimited, often unprotected, data?
Yes, Social Media.
What started off as platforms to engage with friends and peers has fast turned into a gateway for all sorts of transactions. Given that social media platforms are not strictly bound by age, almost everyone has an account on at least one such platform - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn being the Big Four.
Some still use it for mere entertainment, like a quick scroll through while you wait for your food at a café. But with the sheer reach of these platforms, many now use them as tools to increase or represent their businesses, thereby adding a whole new dimension to the user data now available through these websites/apps.
If you willingly share any valuable data about yourself or those in your life, then you have to be ready for those waiting to misuse it. Internet crime is seeing a marked shift from basic email-related crimes to social media crimes. These include identity theft, photo morphing, romance scams and of course, cyberbullying and cyber stalking!
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are becoming serious safety issues. The anonymity of the internet allows people to easily get away with saying or doing things that they probably won’t dare to do in real life. People go out of their way to create fake profiles solely for such purposes. This is why it’s important to connect and interact only with individuals you already know in real life or through trusted connections. However, your vulnerability on social media is not just in your hands.
Let’s assume you take all the required precautions to ensure that you don’t put any personal data on your Instagram account. You only upload photos of your photography. But then a friend of yours puts a photo of you and in the description mentions personal information about you – your birthday, your pet’s name or your parents’ names. Maybe even tags the location to your house. Now, all your effort to keep your personal data offline is slowly getting negated.
Some might ask, how bad can the damage from social media be? Do these crimes even require as much attention as say bank frauds?
Well, a recent report, called Social Media Platforms and the Cybercrime Economy, stated that cybercriminals are earning at least $3.25 billion per year from social media-enabled cybercrime, with the breakdown of earnings being close to:
- Illegal pharmaceutical sales (i.e. prescription drugs) – $1.9 bn
- Stolen data sales – $630 m
- Financial fraud – $290 m
- Crypto-mining malware – $250 m
- Romance/dating fraud – $138 m
The crux of the issue is the ease with which cybercriminals can access data of millions of users, globally. We’ve said it often and we continue to stress on it – just as the internet has made our lives easier, faster and more convenient, so has it helped the criminals too! In fact, research states that one out of five large organisations is now potentially infected with malware distributed via social media. Nearly 40% of malware infections are linked to malvertising, add to that 30% that comes from malicious plug-ins and apps.
Yet, don’t worry. As always, you just need to do the basics and you will considerably reduce your vulnerability.
- Keep your passwords long with mixed characters; change them regularly
- Approach the internet with distrust – what you see online is rarely a representation of reality
- If you can’t say it in front of your grandmother, don’t say it on social media
- Always log out from others’ devices. Ideally, log out from your own phone/laptop too!
- Regularly update your settings for privacy and content sharing
- Just because you have connections, doesn’t mean you must accept the friend request
- Use two-factor authentication!
- Avoid sharing personal information that can be used against you
And please, if you do witness a cybercrime, report it! If someone you know is posting content that is against the platform’s policies, report! Internet safety is a community effort.
Do you have some safety practices that you would like to share?