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Un-social media

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Almost everyone I know, other than me, is involved in social media of some sort. Either it’s Facebook and its friends or MySpace. Since I still live in the Dark Ages of dial-up, plus I don’t care to put a lot of information on the Internet, most of what I’m about to say does not apply to me personally.

Social media. Ah, the sound of it is so warm and fuzzy; touchy-feely, nice and friendly. It’s a virtual space where everyone just wants to get along, chat, connect or re-connect with friends. But, just like in real life, not everyone has friendship in mind. Frankly, a lot of folks out there are attracted by that warm and fuzzy feeling but have a more sinister motive such as stealing cold, hard cash from you.

Most social network sites work very hard to keep them safe; the weakest link is usually the people who trust "friends" they hardly know just a little too much.

What attracts criminals most to social media sites is, quite frankly, people’s willingness to share information with their online friends plus the sheer numbers of people involved. Facebook reportedly has about 400 million users, and MySpace has about 120 million users. Twitter has 75 million who "tweet" regularly. Business networking site LinkedIn more than 60 million. That’s a lot of folks, not to mention a lot of potential chumps free for the plucking.

Naturally, some folks don’t have to worry about trouble caused by others; they can get themselves into enough without help. Take for example simply forgetting who your friends are. That’s just what happened to one British woman who complained bitterly about her new boss and job to all her Facebook friends, not realizing her boss was among them. Oops! That left her an ex-friend and an ex-boss, not to mention an ex-employer.

Besides not remembering who your social media friends are, other concerns may not be as obvious. Among them are simple "information leakage" as well as threats of phishing, click-jacking and malware. This is according to security firm AVG Technologies.

Someone once said whatever you put on the Internet is forever on the Internet, and information goes so much farther than what we ever intended. Tell someone a secret verbally and the spread is most likely limited. Say something online, the entire world may wind up knowing about it. You put online when you are going on vacation and such information can leak into a wider and wider region of cyberspace. You wouldn’t think of putting a "not at home" sign in your front yard when you leave on vacation, but not think a thing about saying something like that online.

Another potential problem is applications, such as quizzes and games that collect information from online profiles. True, while these applications may seem perfectly innocuous, you should stop to consider where that information is going and how it may be used.

Click-jacking is a concern. This technique involves getting users to click on a seemingly harmless link masking a link with a nefarious purpose, such as taking you to a site you’d rather not visit or infecting your computer with malware.

Photographs of women in various stages of undress (mostly completely undressed) are a common bait of scammers as are messages something like, "your computer is infected" and "who’s checking your profile?" The last one was used to encourage users to create their own version of a rogue application to infect other users and so bypass controls in the spread of such malware.

So, what can people do to protect themselves and their computers while enjoying the fun and friendship offered by social media? Expert’s advice be careful. If a link looks odd or if a message from a friend seems strange, don’t click on it. Roger Thompson, chief research officer of AVG says simply, "Think before you link."

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