According to a study by Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab, people are still recklessly sharing private information over the Internet in risky situations.
Twenty eight percent of people share confidential data by accident and 16% willingly disclose secrets about themselves ? despite the fact that information shared online can cost them a relationship or a job.
The survey, which was conducted in co-operation with B2B International, questioned more than 12,000 people worldwide and found that many people risk sharing personal data through online communication channels, in the dangerous online environment.
This might include: a photo of themselves (45%), their contact details (42%), a photo of another person (32%), sensitive personal details (30%) and work-related data (20%) online.
Further, and potentially even more seriously, one-in-six has shared a secret about themselves (16%), while 9% has communicated private information about another person and 8% has shared sensitive financial details.
This is despite the fact that half are deeply worried about the damaging impact of such information being made public ? both in terms of financial loss and emotional distress.
A third was worried that it could damage relationships or embarrass or offend someone and one-in-six (15%) was afraid that it could harm their career.
This level of concern is often justified. Twenty eight percent admitted they have accidentally shared confidential data and one-in-10 have suffered as a result.
Of those that suffered, the consequences included losing friends (20%), being bullied (17%), suffering financial loss (15%), the end of a relationship (13%) and being dismissed from their job (13%).
However, 13% still don?t take any precautions to keep their online activities and information safe, and a mere four-in-ten keep interactions with close family and friends separate from other activity (43%) or double-check all messages and posts before sending (39%).
A quarter try to avoid sending or sharing information when they?ve had a drink, and a guilt-ridden 29% opt for the largely ineffective measure of hastily deleting their Internet history after sharing something.
?Many consumers still struggle to translate risk awareness into caution when it comes to online activity. With so many devices and online channels at our fingertips it?s never been easier to post an unguarded message or accidentally share information with the wrong people. If you are not cyber savvy enough, and you don?t have the proper security and privacy safeguards in place, you could be left with shattered friendships and careers. Once it?s online it?s there forever ? so if in doubt, keep it to yourself,? said David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
While some people post their entire lives on Facebook, others reject online social networking in all its forms. The truth, however, is somewhere in the middle. There are ways to benefit from social networking sites while retaining control of your data.
Here are five simple tips on how to stay safe while enjoying the perks of social media sites.
Tip 1: Check your security settings
Whether you?re using Facebook, Twitter or a different social network, the most important thing is to remember to check your data protection settings.
As you do this, you should bear the following things in mind: Which data will be seen by the people you accept as friends? Which data is completely publicly available (and can thus be searched via Google and similar search engines)? What rights does the operator of the social network have?
These are interesting questions, many of which can be resolved only with considerable effort. It is, however, worth taking the time to do so.
When registering on a social networking site, therefore, you should fill out only the essential information fields and select the most conservative default settings.
Don?t add a picture to your profile straight away, and don?t use your real name. It?s a good idea to create a completely fictitious profile to check how much of this information is visible.
You should only create a profile under your real name once you?re happy with the amount of accessible information.
It?s important to note that, depending on the network in question, there are also data protection specifics you should bear in mind. Facebook, for example, gives friends of friends more rights than other users.
Experience has shown, however, that people are quick to add large numbers of users to their friends lists. This means that complete strangers suddenly have access to your photos and other posts.
To fortify your Facebook security, Kaspersky Lab also has a video compilation of security settings that can boost your account?s privacy. You can watch it here.
Tip 2: Watch what you post
You should not be under the impression that social networks are unnecessary and, by definition, evil. On the contrary: Facebook and similar sites are fantastic tools for keeping in touch with friends all over the world.
Before you go all out, however, it is important to remember that careless chatter can be just as much of a problem as off-colour photos, binge-drinking videos, or memberships of dubious groups.
You should, therefore, be mindful when posting, and don?t forget your manners and your Netiquette. Even though you?re only virtually interacting with other users, hurling abuse is out of order.
You should also consider which functions of these social networking sites are really important to you, and which are not.
Services, for example, which automatically publish your current location on social networking sites, should be treated with caution. Why? The combination of your current whereabouts and your personal information makes you traceable in real life.
Tip 3: Unmasking false friends
As a rule, the operators of social networking sites don?t verify that the owner of a particular user account is who they purport to be.
While it?s obvious that Karl Marx and Michael Jackson?s profiles are not maintained by the dearly departed themselves, it can be hard to tell whether Peter Miller is really your old classmate or someone posing as him.
You should, therefore, always be wary when someone on Facebook sends you a friend request.
Tip 4: Protecting your own identity
There are already cases of identity theft in which criminals have created profiles for users and used them to blackmail their victims. These people are forced to pay certain sums of money to prevent their online reputations from being ruined.
Threats include, for example, the publication of compromising photos. Another way to steal a person?s identity involves using phishing methods to collecting passwords for existing user accounts on social networking sites. In such cases, protective mechanisms are useful.
Tip 5: Preventing malware attacks
Cybercriminals use social networking sites to infiltrate vulnerable users and steal important data. Pests like the Koobface worm use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to distribute themselves, as well as the more traditional email route.
In such cases, users receive an invitation from a friend to view a photo album or to click on a link to watch a ?great video?. Clicking on the link, however, takes you neither to a photo album nor a video. Instead, your PC becomes infected with malware.
All infected computers are then incorporated into what?s known as a botnet ? a network of infected computers which is used to send spam or to carry out attacks, and which is controlled by cybercriminals.
To avoid such attacks, social media users need a reliable and updated internet security solution that will protect what means the most to them.