In the past decade, there has been massive growth on the internet. We’ve seen an abundance of brand new websites launching daily, with many social media platforms aiming to rival the big dogs such as Facebook and Twitter.
Each social media platform has its attraction — or gimmick if you will — that allows them to stand out from the crowd. Ultimately, social media is the future of our world, and there’s no way that it will be slowing down at any time. From messaging friends and family in an instant to accessing several news sources at once, or keeping yourself entertained with funny cat videos, social media has become the epicentre of the world wide web.
However, it comes at a cost. Social media could be putting your online safety and privacy at risk if you’re not careful. If you have not set your profiles to private, social media can be a cybercriminal’s greatest weapon against you. There’s a whole list of crimes they can commit with the simple information that you have available on social media.
How Popular is Social Media?
There’s no doubt that social media is incredibly powerful and extremely popular all over the world. It’s rare to find someone that is not on some kind of social media platform, even if it’s just a casual YouTube user. Whether it’s to keep in touch with friends and family, stay up to date with the latest news based on your interests, or kill some time through entertainment, social media has changed the way we live, and the way that our future will be shaped.
The social media age arrived with a bang as the likes of Facebook, YouTube, and eventually, Twitter dominated the industry for many years. However, as more and more social media platforms came about, more people began to buy into the ideas. It’s clear that the future of the world is digital, and just about everything has already moved in that direction. The process has only been sped up by the Covid-19 pandemic as people were stuck in their homes due to lockdown. Entertainment, studying, and working all had to be done from home, and social media usage skyrocketed.
The latest figures for 2022 show that there are nearly 4 billion social media users around the world (3.96 billion to be exact). That’s a 4.8% increase from 2021, and there’s been a consistent year-on-year increase in the number of people who use social media platforms. That number simply continues to rise every single day.
The Risks of Social Media
Now that we know just how popular social media is, it’s time to look at why it can put you at risk. When you create your social media profile you are required to enter your personal information. The majority of people (legitimate people) create profiles using their information including their full names and date of birth — something we usually don’t think twice about.
However, to a cybercriminal, this can be incredibly valuable information. Many people use weak passwords to create their accounts — people often use their name and date of birth as their passwords. If a cybercriminal can get their hands on this information they can get into your account and lock you out.
Many people post a lot of private information on their social media pages, which is fine — unless your profile is not set to private. Simple information that we often don’t think twice about such as the name of our first pet, or our mother’s maiden name can sometimes be posted onto our profile. However, these are the very same security questions that are asked to recover your account if you have forgotten your password. This means a cybercriminal can use this information to get into your account with ease.
Another important thing to take note of is phishing scams. We’re used to phishing scams being isolated to emails, but that is simply not the case anymore. Cybercriminals can use social media to trick their victims into clicking on links as well. Clicking on a fraudulent link can prompt malicious software such as viruses, spyware or ransomware to be installed on your device. It can also send you to a fraudulent website that has been set up by the cybercriminal. The website will have a keylogger installed on it, and whatever information you type into the website (login credentials, personal information, or even banking details) will be given straight to the cybercriminal.
Phishing scams are arguably easier to pull off on social media because hackers can target victims based on their interests. For example, if you’re a fan of a particular band, a hacker can simply send you a link to a “competition” where you can win free tickets to watch them perform live. In exchange for some personal details and perhaps the creation of an account (with your usual login credentials), you would be entered into the fake competition.
How to Ensure Your Safety
Safety on social media is rarely taken seriously by many people. The majority of internet users don’t understand the risks that they face when they’re online, and they choose to bury their heads in the sand and believe that it would never happen to them.
The first step to ensuring your safety is to set your social media profiles to private. From there you should not interact with anyone that you don’t know. You should also avoid message requests from strangers and you should never click on links that have been sent your way, even if they have been sent from a friend’s profile. Hackers can sometimes send phishing scams from a person’s profile to their friends and family. Potential victims are more likely to interact with the link when it’s coming from someone that they know and trust — this is also known as social engineering.
You should also consider investing in premium antivirus software. This cybersecurity tool will act as a safety net in case you miss something. Antivirus software will constantly scan your device for any viruses or other forms of malware, and it can remove them from your device too.