All around the world, culture and society are influenced by social media. With almost 2.5 billion users globally, it should come as no surprise that there are both positives and negatives that come with almost a third of the world using these platforms.

Within the United States alone, approximately 243 million individuals use some form of social media. While social media is intended to unite communities and form or maintain relationships, it’s also become a playground for online criminal activity.

How Dangerous Is Social Media?

Social media is public in nature, making it a target for anyone seeking to collect information from individual users. Because of the connectivity of social media, much of this information can be used to infect other users and alter public image. But, on the more sinister side, hackers can also gain access to more sensitive information through your social media accounts.

For instance, once a hacker gains access to your private information, it can lead to them discovering your passwords, phone numbers, address, and much more. That information alone can be dangerous, especially since the hacker may use it to access more important personal services, including your bank account.

Being hacked may seem as unlikely as witnessing a shark attack, but it’s far more common than you might imagine. Around 22% of social media users stated they’ve been hacked at least once, and 14% have been victims of multiple hacks. The report results show that being hacked is a very real and viable threat, especially since there’s no way to tell which users have been hacked unknowingly.

Staying Secure on Social Media

The response to this shouldn’t be to immediately delete all your social media accounts and cower away from the digital age. There are many straightforward ways to help ensure that your information is protected, even amongst a sea of unknowns.

Here are just a few tips for social media security:

#1 Username & Password Safety

One of the most crucial parts of preventing a hacking incident is password security. A good password can create the foundation for a safe and protected user database, while a fragile password can lead to easy access for hackers with the right software. You don’t have to be a tech wizard to create a nearly uncrackable password. All you need is a little dose of random.

Experts agree there are several key factors behind a good password:

  • Length: Any password, no matter how random, can be broken quickly if it’s too short. A good password must have at least 12 characters, but 18 or more characters is ideal. The more characters in a password, the harder it will be to crack as there are more and more possible combinations. With 12 characters, there are more than a trillion different combinations of letters, numbers, symbols, and capitals, making it impossible to crack in a lifetime with existing software.
  • Variation: Rather than just using lowercase letters and numbers, insert capitals and symbols throughout the password as well.
  • Randomness: Stringing together recognizable words is typically not recommended, but it does help with user memorization. If you choose to go with understandable words, combine several words that are unusual and unrelated. For example: “FluffyDog” would be a poor choice for a password, whereas “SquidOutrage96!!” would be a stronger starting point.

Combining all 3 of these traits is crucial to creating a well rounded password to protect access to your information. It’s also worth noting that creating a single use email for social media accounts only, called a spoof email, can also play a role in limiting the damage if you are hacked. If they get through your password, the hackers won’t have access to your main email address, contacts, or other accounts that may be connected to your main email.

#2 Don’t Repeat Passwords

do not repeat your password

achinverma / Pixabay

Nearly everyone has heard this advice, and yet password reuse is still rampant. Use different passwords for each social media platform and every account you make on any online service or electronic device. Having a unique password for each account creates a multilayered protection against any potential hackers, since hackers will often attempt to put your login information into common banking, email, or online shopping websites once they know it.

Solve this with a password manager app. These apps not only generate new, strong passwords for every account you have, but they also keep all the passwords in one single platform that’s fully encrypted and secured. To get into the password manager, you’ll have one single master password, which is the only one you’ll have to memorize.

The biggest benefit of password managers is removing the need for you to remember every password for every different account. You can remember one single password while still having long, random, unique passwords for every account on every website or app you use.

#3 Use a VPN

Public Wi-Fi is often a tremendous way to save data. However, there is an inherent danger in using publically accessible networks of any kind. While a downtown network or an airport Wi-Fi is convenient, there are often several online predators waiting behind the scenes. Once you log into a public network, your information can be easily accessed by others on that network. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) bypasses malicious users and keeps them from snooping on your data.

When you’re accessing information on the internet, your computer is broadcasting an IP address that’s unique to your digital footprint. Your IP address may be giving away a lot more than you realize. When a VPN is active, all information is sent to a private and protected server which encrypts data for you. This network can be in a completely different location geographically as well. Not only is your digital footprint protected, but any potential trace is encrypted and secured by the VPN.

#4 Don’t Click Unknown Links

On most social media platforms, there is a steady bombardment of content with questionable intent. This could be anything from weird friend requests, links, and messages from unknown or unusual sources. It’s important to perform at least a brief legitimacy check before interacting with any links. With links can come several forms of criminal activity, with the biggest being phishing or malware.

Phishing is the use of fake accounts or websites impersonating trustworthy sources in order to try to steal personal information. It can be as basic as an email pretending to be from a government organization or as complex as a link to a fake website built to closely resemble a real login point.

Accessing foreign links can also infect your computer with malware, a destructive virus which transfers data and information to someone on the outside. These scams are common, and once you’re infected the hacker or malware program often accesses your social media and posts or sends the link to other accounts.

Use a link scanning program, or simply ask the person who posted what the link is and where it leads. If they’re a friend of yours and they posted it on purpose, they’ll probably tell you. If not, just leave it alone.

#5 Limit Personal Information Provided

keep the personal information

rawpixel / Pixabay

Another key preventative method to protect your information is to be careful what you share within the social media platform itself. A lot of these platforms ask for your phone number, address, workplace, and other sensitive details which could be harmful if compromised. These are always optional, and you should never feel obligated to fill in any information you don’t want to provide. You can also remove it at any time.

If you do decide to put this information online, changing privacy settings is a good way to keep that information out of the public eye. You can make it harder for others to see your information, which makes it harder for a hacker to get information about you in the first place. Avoiding putting any personal information online minimizes the damage they can do even if they do hack your account.

#6 Keep Your Devices/Apps Updated

Many software applications, including social media platforms, have several layers of built-in security features. These security measures occasionally have faults discovered and require updating to patch the issues. It’s important that you keep your devices themselves updated, as well as staying up to date on each individual apps as well.

#7 Beware What You Post

Unfortunately, the internet never forgets. If you post something, it will stay posted forever. Even deleting something doesn’t always keep it from popping up somewhere else later on. Don’t post personal information or anything that can be used against you.

#8 Don’t Add Friends You Don’t Know

The safest way to avoid accidentally giving away too much information or interacting with malicious accounts is to keep your friends list for your friends. Avoid adding people on Facebook, Snapchat, or other platforms with a similar connection feature, unless you actually know who they are. It’s not a foolproof preventative measure, but it helps.

More than one-third of the world uses social media. This is an enormous target for hackers. It’s important that you take care of whatever information you put onto the internet, by making secure passwords or limiting private information. While no account is truly hack proof, these 8 preventative measures will make your account nearly unbeatable.