OK, so maybe I'm picking directly on facebook, but that is only because that was what was mentioned to me. In reality though, this article applies to all the social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc... To bring you up to speed, I was asked for my opinion on whether or not someone should get on facebook. Her husband was a fairly recognizable figure and she didn't want to attract attention to herself or to him by facebook, so she asked me for my opinion on the subject. Specifically she was concerned with privacy....or the lack of it. This article will discuss privacy, attack methods, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Here's what you need to know about privacy in a nutshell. You have none! Essentially, if it is on a social networking site, then you are volunteering information to the world about yourself. Even worse, your very dear friends are volunteering information about you too....obviously with no ill will in their heart though. It's all in fun, right? The benefit to most of the social networking sites are that you can selectively volunteer your information, or even lie about yourself if you are trying to start over. Most people only volunteer the very basics about themselves on social network sites and consider the information to be harmless. But is it? I'll create a scenario for you.
- Sign up for facebook
- enter in where I graduated High School and what year
- enter in what fraternity I joined when I went to college
- put up some pictures about my family, my significant other, a few of the parties I went to (that I may or may not entirely remember)
- added one of those facebook applications that allows me to indicate who my relatives are
- went and found all my elementary and high school friends and added them to my friends list
- did the mobile upload thing and put up cell phone pictures of my son eating icecream
How private am I with all this? Not very, I can tell you that. Now, lets continue on with our scenario but from the extra stuff our friends know about.
- my friends add in pictures that I am in....but don't remember being there. Hmm, what sort of implications could that mean?
- my friends make idle comments about "hey, you remember that time when you did this.....?". Again, more information that we didn't intend to get released, but did anyway. And by our friends also.
So, how could all this be used against you? Well, lets put our bad guy hats on and think about this for a bit. First I would enter in all the public information that you freely gave me, such as where you went to High School. Because most people graduate HS at the age of 18, I now know your approximate age and the year you were born. Now, that I know your fraternity, I would do a search on all the frat brothers to seek out compromising pictures. I would compile a folder of all the pictures you put up and analyze them. These pictures might release certain information, such as license plates by that brand new car you are proud of, your dog (color, breed, etc...), pictures of your house to come up with a basic understanding of your floor plan and probably look closely at the curb to see if I could read the address. I would look at your "declared" relatives and litterally draw lines to show who your sister, mother, father was, etc... Based on this I could create a basic history of your childhood by doing research on your parents, siblings, etc... Additionally, since I know where you went to High School, I can ask for your grades as they are part of public information. I could do the same thing for any time spent at college, all I need is a name and a year. Your friends, don't get angry at this, but they are going to help me. They are going to put up all sorts of pictures about various activities that you most likely don't remember. I speak from experience on the pictures that your friends will put up, and even now I don't remember being there!!!! Lastly, the comments that your friends will make about "remember way back when?", is going to provide me some of the most important information of all. Your friends comments will provide information that isn't easily found and only known by a select few people. All those special memories, can be used against you as that information gives insider knowledge and now allows someone to have a memorable conversation with someone of your past. I can actually go on with the possibilities, but I only have so much space. By the way, this is called "Social Engineering".
What can you do about it? Well the safest is to never join these sites and destroy all evidence of your existance. Unfortunately, your friends probably have pictures of you that they won't want you to destroy and will probably put them up on facebook regardless if you join or not. At least, that is what happened with me. The best thing you can do outside of moving to a deserted island is to carefully watch what you put up. And when I mean careful, I mean "CAREFUL"!!! What is in the background of the pictures I'm uploading. In my comments am I putting specific information about myself that could come back to me. Did I join the facebook group called "Graduates of ABC High, 1995" (gives away age, location of graduation, year of graduation, place most likely grew up in, etc...)? End result though is, being on facebook is fun, finding your friends from way back when is fun, getting in touch with someone you haven't spoken with for 20 years is kinda cool, seeing how your ex-girlfriend is doing is intriguing. So moral of the story, be safe, but don't become a living hermit too afraid to enjoy a fun thing.....but most of all.....just be safe.