Social media accounts are a path for unscrupulous or foreign actors to dig up all kinds of information that can be used to impersonate someone, steal identities or break into other online accounts, such as banking or insurance. Having an online presence or digital footprint can be dangerous, depending on the type of information you both knowingly or unknowingly publish on the internet. Here are some helpful tips to protect you and your family online.
The advent of social media has been an amazing way to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. However, you may have also exposed yourselves to the underbelly of the internet if you have not taken the necessary steps to protect your information.
Hackers, predators, and foreign state actors troll social networking sites to find vulnerable targets for exploitation. If you are in the military or have family members in the military, you’ll want to practice Operations Security (or OPSEC for short). OPSEC is the practice of protecting unclassified information about personal information and military operations to ensure safety for individuals, family members, and units.
Helpful tips to protect your information on the internet and social media:
- Keep sensitive and work-related information off your social media profile.
- Do not publish dates, vacations, and schedules online. This is most important when you have a deployed service member, so protect this information from dangerous individuals who may prey upon family members or target returning deployed units. Publishing your vacation timeline could also make you susceptible to burglaries.
- Protect the name and information of family members and friends.
- Regularly check your security and privacy settings on your social media accounts, because the companies may often make changes to security settings without your knowledge.
- Google your name and the names of your family members. How easily are you found in an internet search? How much personal information is floating out there regarding your location, your finances, your history, and your loved ones?
- Verify that you actually know a “friend” before accepting his or her friend request.
- Tailor your access permissions for your “friends.” How much do you want your acquaintances or co-workers to see of your personal life?
- How much is displayed on your basic profile to the public, and how easy is it to find you within a social media interface? View your social media profiles while logged out of your account to see what is publicly accessible.
- Review your friend’s profiles. Sometimes the photos or any information they post about you could be seen by external parties depending on your friend’s privacy settings.
- Be careful when completing memes or surveys that ask for small bits of personal information that when strung together might provide clues to guessing passwords, e.g. last 4 digits a phone, favorite color, birth month.
- Be careful when you click on questionable links and downloads, just like you would in an email.
- Ensure your passwords are different and hard to guess for each site. If you use the same password for everything, it will be very easy for a hacker to hack into all your other accounts.
- Turn off geo-tagging in your photos. Individuals can exploit your exact location simply based off the data built into your photography. If you upload that photo onto the internet, it is easy for an adversary to geolocate where the image was taken. This could be dangerous for deployed military units’ locations as well as the location of the homes of loved ones (depending on where the photo was taken). Check out this link for more information on geotagging. Learn how to disable geotagging for Android devices here, and how to disable geotagging on iOS here.
- Permanently close old, unused accounts.
- Configure the strongest privacy settings for each social media account.
- Limit use of third-party applications on social media applications, read the license agreement, and understand exactly what those applications want to access.
- Same with apps that use your camera and the terms and conditions take rights to your photos e.g. aging booths that scan your face.
- Remove or do not post anything that might bring unwanted attention from violent extremists such as members of ISIS or Al Qaeda.
- Enable two-factor authentication on any platform that allows it.
- Use strong passwords, and use different passwords for every account.
- Change answers to security questions, and use false answers so that online criminals can’t use information they gather online to gain access to your accounts.
- Change passwords routinely.
If you’re interested in further OPSEC Awareness Training for Military Members and Military Dependents, check out the free online training provided by the Department of Defense or go to the DoD’s social media hub.
Viv is a West Point graduate, an Army Officer, an Army wife, and a Family Readiness Group Leader. She has served on Active Duty with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and is now in the Army Reserves. She is enjoying life in Texas with her Army Ranger husband.