The Security Detail

Aug 17 2011   8:29PM GMT

Study Finds Users Naive and Complacent about Sharing Info Online

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

How careful are you about the information you share online? Do you take steps to protect confidential data like your Social Security Number or date of birth? Do you restrict access to sensitive personal information? If so, consider yourself lucky…or smart…or both.

A research study by BullGuard found that 42 percent of the respondents had posted their birth date online. The study also revealed that 18 percent have shared their phone number, 24 percent have posted their children’s names. Even more concerning–more than a third of those who use Facebook or Twitter admit to potentially alerting criminals to rob their homes by announcing to those social networks when they plan to be gone for a vacation or long weekend trip.

“Though this sort of information may seem harmless to share with others, much of it is commonly used as security questions when accessing an online bank or confirming identity over the phone,” says Claus Villumsen, internet security expert at BullGuard. “It’s also a bad idea to publicize the fact that you will be away for any period of time, especially if the house will then be empty, as this just gives more information to would-be thieves as to your whereabouts.”

BullGuard provides some basic precautions that you should consider to protect your personal information and use the Internet and social networks safely:

  • Never accept friend requests from people you don’t know, or who aren’t easily identifiable from associations with other friends.
  • Spend some time learning about the security measures available on sites like Facebook, and ensure that posts and photos aren’t available to everyone. It’s often easy to restrict information to friends, or friends of friends, though the former is obviously more secure as you can’t guarantee that others will be as vigilant in whom they allow to read their posts.
  • Strip out any personal details from a profile that don’t really need to be there – for example pets’ names, addresses, maiden name and date of birth. This is particularly important if you use services that request this sort of information to confirm your identity, have been used as a security question in the event of a password being forgotten or are used to log into a web site. 
  • Ensure that any passwords used for important sites or services bear no clear relation to any hobbies or interests you may have, as a would-be thief may try common words linked to these subjects when attempting to guess a password.
  • Be sure to log out securely at the end of each session, and where possible use a secure login if you are accessing a site away from home. On public computers, the next user may be able to access your account and gather information at their leisure.
  • Be wary of engaging in a conversation with people you don’t know, and particularly so if they start to ask for personal information or other sensitive details. It’s usually fairly easy to block these users to avoid being bothered by them again. 
  • Avoid storing any sensitive information, such as bank numbers, credit card details and passwords in email accounts or documents on a computer. It may serve as a handy reminder, but could be disastrous if it were to fall into the wrong hands.
  • Where possible use a pseudonym to identify yourself on sites where using a real name is not required. This will help prevent a third party from tracking down information to a named individual. 

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