For the past year, I’ve been screaming about the trouble with social media as it relates to identity theft, brand hijacking, privacy issues, and the opportunity social media creates for criminals to “friend” their potential victims in order to create a false
sense of trust and use that against their victims in phishing or other scams. I predicted long ago that the problem will get a lot worse before it gets better and there’s no question about it, criminal hackers have taken hold and are in full force.
We hear about a new Twitter phishing scam almost daily, whether it’s via direct messaging or a shortened URL. My spam folder is filled with emails from
Facebook phishers, requesting new login credentials, or a “friend” who’s sending me a video that’s actually a virus.
Not too long ago, it was big news when someone had their Facebook account jacked by someone who impersonated the victim, claiming to have lost their wallet in the UK and begging for a money wire. Lately, I see another story about another victim every week.
Last time I checked, Facebook had more than 400 million users and Twitter has more than 50 million. These numbers jump exponentially every month, and old and new users are still being victimized.
James Carnall, manager of the cyberintelligence division at security monitoring firm
Cyveillance, says, “Social media cybersquatting is where
domain name cybersquatting was ten years ago”.
Scammers aren’t just stealing identities and spreading malware. They are brand jacking in ways that are hurting companies’ bottom lines. While many may not have sympathy for the bottoms lines of billion dollar corporations, this hurts the little guy, too.
Knock off software, hardware, merchandise, and movies ultimately cost legitimate taxpayers jobs and hurt the economy when the money is heading to criminal hackers elsewhere in the world. Liz Miller, vice president of the Chief Marketing Officer Council,
says, “Counterfeiting operations are highly organized, are very global and are picking up steam because of the economy.”
MarkMonitor, a company that tracks online threats for its clients, determined that phishing attacks on social networking sites increased by 164% over the past year. And in
a CMO Council survey of 4,500 senior marketing executives, nearly 20% of the respondents said they had been affected by online scams and phishing schemes that had hijacked brand names. These statistics undeniably point to organized crime syndicates.
Protect yourself from social media identity theft.
- Register your full name and those of your spouse and kids on the most trafficked social media sites, blogs, domains or web based email accounts. If your name is already gone, include your middle initial, a period or a hyphen. It’s up to you to decide whether
or not to plug in your picture and basic bio, but consider leaving out your age or birthday. You can do this manually or by using a very cost effective service called Knowem.com.
- Register all your officers, company names and branded products on every social media site you can find to prevent Twitter squatting and cybersquatting.
- Get free alerts. Set up Google alerts for your name and get an email every time your name pops up online. Set up a free
StepRep account for your name. StepRep is an online reputation manager that does a better job than Google does of fetching your name on the web.
- Implement policies. Social media is a great platform for connecting with existing and potential clients. However, without some type of policy in place that regulates employee access and guidelines for appropriate behavior, social media may eventually be
completely banned from every corporate network. Teach effective use
by provide training on proper use and especially what not do to.
- Encourage URL decoding. Before clicking on shortened URLs, find out where they lead by pasting them into a URL lengthening service like
TinyURL Decoder or
- Limit social networks. In my own research, I’ve found 300-400 operable social networks serving numerous uses from music to movies, from friending to fornicating. Some are more or less appropriate and others even less secure. Knowem has a mind blowing list
of 4600 as of this writing.
- Train IT personnel. Effective policies begin from the top down. Those responsible for managing technology need to be fully up to speed.
- Maintain updated security. Whether hardware or
software, anti-virus or critical security patches, make sure you are up to date.
- Lock down settings. Most social networks have privacy settings that need to be administered to the highest level. Default settings generally leave the networks wide open for attack.
- Invest in identity theft protection and prevention. Not all forms of identity theft protection can be prevented, but identity theft protection services can dramatically reduce your risk.