Guidry: Strong passwords key to social media privacy

Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Internet privacy is an ever-growing concern. Are we sharing too much? How can we control what we share? If you haven’t made a point to think about security when you use social media, it’s time to start. Here’s how you can protect your accounts on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

• Use strong, unique passwords. You may be tired of password advice, but your password is your primary line of defense. If you don’t use a strong one, you might as well hand your accounts over to hackers. Passwords should be 12 characters or more in length and contain a random mix of letters, symbols and numbers. Never use the same password elsewhere, especially when it comes to social media. Each and every account needs a unique password that is changed frequently. Password management tools can help you generate and store your passwords in an encrypted database.

• Set social media posts to private. Unless you’ve specifically configured your settings, it’s likely your posts are set to public. This is dangerous, especially if you post about your family and kids. Criminals use Facebook and other social media sites to scout for victims, and they will swipe any information or pictures they can access. Not only should you set all future posts to friends-only, you should use Facebook’s Activity Log to go back and retroactively set the permissions for previous posts, too.

• Watch for doppelgangers. Has someone created a duplicate profile using your name and picture? These doppelganger accounts are used by hackers to try to siphon away your followers. If you spot one, report it to the site in question and warn your friends. Never try to engage with  the hackers directly; it will only escalate the problem.

• Block fake followers. Similarly, many Facebook and Twitter followers are spambots, computer-generated accounts that exist solely to send spam and malicious links. It’s a good idea to go through your followers list and remove or block any that are obvious fakes. Of course, if someone is trolling or harassing you online, you should block them, too.

• Report inappropriate content. Online harassment is a topic too broad to be covered in a single article, but if you are experiencing it, be sure to document. Facebook, Twitter, and other sites have tools you can use to report offensive content and harassment. If it’s simply a post you don’t want to see, you can click to hide it.

• Verify links before you share. That link your friend posted might be a virus in disguise. Before you click share, make sure it’s legit. Use Snopes or Hoaxbusters to verify urban legends, and unshrink shortened addresses through services such as Untiny.

• Monitor your settings. Facebook and other sites are known for flipping your security settings at their whim. I recommend you double-check your privacy settings for each and every post you make, and frequently go into the settings to review your configuration.

Securing your social media accounts will save you a great deal of time and frustration.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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