The way we use the Internet has changed significantly over the past few years. Less than a decade ago, social networking sites were unheard of. Now, over eight hundred million people have a profile on Facebook. In addition, there are numerous other social networking sites that are used alongside Facebook enabling people to connect, network and interact online almost constantly.
While social networking sites have revolutionised the way we socialise and connect, these social tools do come with a series of security implications that many users don't take into consideration. When it comes to using social media, there are precautions you need to take.
Many people mainly use Facebook to connect with friends and family, and even if you don't use the site yourself, the chances are that someone you know will be using it. For younger generations, having a social media profile is commonplace, so if you have kids then they probably have a social media profile that they use regularly.
One of the ways social media sites make money is by using the information that users input to their profile for targeted advertising. The more information a user submits to the site, the more the company can generate through advertising, even if you simply "Like" a page or become a Facebook fan. This is why you'll often see adverts or promotions related to something you recently "Liked" appear on your Facebook page.
This is where so many people fall prey to scams, pranks and other online crimes. In 2011 CBC News reported that computer-generated Facebook profiles are able to gather personal information such as birthdays, addresses and phone numbers from thousands of Facebook users, without their knowledge.
The information collected via these phony profiles can easily be used for malicious purposes, particularly identity theft. A research project headed by the University of British Columbia proved that these automated networks exist and are "already at work on social networks such as Facebook", illustrating that tech-savvy thieves are capable of identity theft via social networks.
When it comes to protecting ourselves from being victims of various social networking and other web threats such as spam, phishing, spyware and malware, there are various things we can do to keep ourselves safe.
It's good practice not to accept any friend requests from strangers or people you aren't in contact with, as these could be phony profiles.
There are also software options available. Norton™ Safe Web is an online service that lets users know how safe different websites are before you view them. The service allows you to search, surf and shop safely online whilst also ensuring that any site, including social networking sites, are free from malicious intent.
Norton™ Safe Web Lite is a free version offering protection from unsafe websites and disreputable ecommerce sites.
For Facebook-specific safety, Norton™ Safe Web for Facebook is also available. This service is quick and easy to set up and is a vital tool to battle threats and suspicious links on Facebook. By scanning your news feed, the program is able to identify any questionable links such as phishing sites, malicious downloads or unsafe external sites. The program runs in the background, so you won't even notice it unless you're being alerted to a potential risk.
To get Norton Safe Web for Facebook, simply log in to Facebook and type 'Norton Safe Web' into the search field and click on the Norton icon. You need to grant permission to the application so it can access your wall and news feeds by clicking 'Allow' when prompted.
Once the Auto-Scan feature is enabled, you can use Facebook with peace of mind, knowing that Norton Safe Web will alert you of any potential risks.