The 5 essentials for safe online socializing

Social networkers beware: digital communities are facing increased online threats. The accessibility and popularity of networking sites are among the main reasons that these communities are targeted by malware, extortion scams and impersonation ploys. Does that risk mean you should give up blogging, updating your online resume, or reconnecting with long lost friends on your favorite sites? Absolutely not. As with most online hazards, a little caution and awareness go a long way in terms of outweighing the potential pitfalls. Keep these essentials in mind as you socialize online.

1. Be careful what you post – Once shared online, your private information is no longer private. Before posting any personal information, think about how much data you want available about yourself online. Even information that may seem mundane to you at first glance can be valuable to scammers. Keep in mind – just because you delete information or even a full online profile, it is not necessarily gone forever. Online information can easily be copied, cached or forwarded. The fact is, you never know who may be at the receiving end of the data you make available online or send out to others.

You should also keep a tight hand on the information you share about others. Upon signing up to a new networking site, many will offer to scan your e-mail address book to search for other friends on the network. Avoid doing this – the networking site may use this information to send messages to all of your contacts.

2. Be careful what you consume – Don’t click on unsolicited messages. You’ve heard this security mantra applied to e-mail, but it pertains to social networking sites as well. The catch: you’ll also need to watch for imposters; you have to be careful even when links appear to come from a friend. Scammers can easily hack into accounts in order to send messages that appear as though they’re from a friend.

3. Read the privacy policy – Before using networking or Web 2.0 sites, make sure to review the organization carefully, and find out how your personal information will be used or monitored. Reading the privacy policy is an effective way to find out what your rights are, and to decide if you want to join a certain site.

You should also read any security tips, FAQs, and features information to find out about privacy and security controls. Most sites have privacy controls that you can activate by changing your account settings, allowing you to set your profile to private so that only those that you invite can see the information you post. Make sure to take advantage of these features when available.

4. Use applications and extras sparingly – You have the ability to download and install third-party applications and various extras that work with the social networking sites you use. This can be done to add fun or functionality to your networking experience, such as playing games or personalizing your page. Software applications that are available for download to run on the site may not undergo any type of security approval, verification, or review. These applications can potentially be leveraged by cyber thieves to compromise your information. As you should before downloading or installing any new applications or files, be sure to use caution and make sure your PC is up-to-date with the latest patches and current security software.

5. Monitor kids, teens, and tweens – Social networking sites are no longer limited mostly to teens and college students, but they are certainly still extremely popular among that age group. Your child may be old enough to know how to use the Internet or networking sites, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to do so responsibly without supervision, or to handle every situation that may arise online. Networking sites can potentially open up children and young adults to many unfavorable aspects of the Internet – including bullying, online predators, and cyber scams.

While many sites are taking positive steps in working together to prevent abuse and protect the interest of minors, make sure to arm the young people in your life with information that can help them to make safe decisions. Aside from preparing yourself for the threats you may face on social networking sites with the steps above, make sure that your computer is prepared with essential protection; security software basics to keep you safe online include anti-spyware, anti-virus and a firewall.