With billions of people using social media every day, it should come as no surprise that cybercriminals have found ways to exploit it for gain. In fact, according to one recent report, social media has actually surpassed email as the preferred means for attackers to spread malware and become the biggest source of attacks.
This popularity stems from the fact that the inherent nature of social media makes it easy to spread malware with little effort. Not only do the connections between users help spread malware, but there is a trust factor with social media that simply isn’t present with email. In short, social media users trust the people they are connected with and aren’t as cautious about sharing links to content and applications as they would be with email. And when trusted content shares something, others are more likely to click on it, quickly spreading malware via malvertising, malicious applications, and unwanted plugins.
(Guide) Protect Your Social Media Accounts from Malware
While a significant amount of social media malware actually falls into the category of grayware, or malware that doesn’t actually harm the user or his or her machine (such as adware) it’s still a major issue. By some estimates, more than a billion people have had their personal information exposed to malware, and the reports of cybercrime continue to increase.
Short of deleting your social media presence, what can you do to protect your social accounts and personal information from malware? There is actually quite a bit, and most involve only a little effort.
Use Antivirus Protection
Regardless of whether you use a Mac or a PC, installing comprehensive internet security and antivirus protection is vital to avoiding social media-borne malware infections. The best programs offer malware removal as well as blocking to get rid of any sneaky programs that do manage to get through.
Keep Personal Information to a Minimum
When using social media, there is often a temptation to share as much as possible. After all, why wouldn’t the world be interested in everything about you? The fact is, everything that you post on social media could be of interest to hackers, and the more information you provide, the easier you make it for them to target you and steal your identity. Not only that, hackers will use your publicly available information to create a profile impersonating you, which is then used to spread malware or conduct other nefarious activities on the site.
Therefore, limit the amount of information that you post online. Be cautious of so-called challenges that ask you to list things like your mother’s maiden name, where you were born, or facts about your high school or college experiences, as well. The answers to those questions are also the answers to many common security questions and giving hackers that information makes it easier for them to impersonate you.
Be Careful Who You Trust
While you probably don’t think that your former co-worker or third-grade teacher would be spreading malware, it’s always best to be cautious when clicking on links shared by your contacts. Social media attackers thrive on the trust between users, and even an innocent-looking cat video could be hiding malware. Don’t just mindlessly click on links but look closely at what they say. Does the link look like something that a person would normally share? Does the grammar look odd, or are there spelling mistakes where there wouldn’t normally be any?
If someone shares a link about something that looks interesting, but you aren’t sure, do some detective work. For example, one common spam link involves a horrific rollercoaster accident. When you see something like this, click away from social media and check the news to get the real story without malware. If the link is fake, report it.
And it should go without saying but be cautious about accepting friend requests and be wary of accepting requests from people you don’t really know in real life. Accepting requests from strangers opens your profile up to risk, as that person might be a hacker looking to collect your personal information and use your profile to spread malware. It’s okay to decline friend requests if you don’t know the person.
Be Selective Where You Get Social
Finally, be cautious about where you log in to your social accounts, avoiding public Wi-fi whenever possible. Cyber spies often monitor public places to collect information and logging in on an unsecured network could leave you vulnerable.
Social media has many benefits, but as time goes on, it’s becoming clear that there are significant risks involved with using it. By following these simple practices, you have a better chance of avoiding malware and the headaches that can come with it.