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Why social networks lead by example when it comes to online security

Published on 14 October 13
Why social networks lead by example when it comes to online security - Image 1

Social media often gets a bad press on account of concerns about privacy and online security. Occasional privacy leaks such as that experienced with the new Timeline Interface on Facebook in March 2013 mean that many users are worried about the safety of their personal data when using social media sites. While these sites are the main target of criticism, internet banking and online shopping continue to thrive, with consumers putting their faith in the rigorous processes used to protect our identities and maintain internet security. However, it now seems that it might be a little hasty to entrust our personal and financial security to online retailers and financial service providers.

Research from the Online Trust Alliance suggests that, in fact, social media sites are more careful with our personal data than banks and online retailers, with oft-criticised sites such as Facebook and Twitter at the forefront of internet security. With such sites coming under heavy scrutiny, social networking platforms have been forced to be more rigorous than ever in their approach to dealing with our personal information. As a result, social networking sites performed very well across all criteria in the OTA’s annual audit, demonstrating better site and server security, as well as having a safer overall infrastructure.

Given the high levels of security maintained by websites such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, it is rapidly becoming clear that, in the world of social networking, the biggest threat to consumer security is from users themselves. The sharing culture encouraged by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter often leads us to let our guard down. A report by Mediabistro claims that 25% of Facebook users do not apply any privacy settings whatsoever, while research by Pew Internet Institute claims that as many as 48% of social networking users find privacy settings difficult to manage.

Those of us who opt for online banking have always been wary of security breaches and the majority of us go to great lengths to keep our personal details safe. However, almost all online banking services are targeted by phishing campaigns in which fraudsters use unsolicited emails to trick users into typing their details into third-party sites which store their information. Trusteer, a company specialising in consumer protection claims that around 1.04% of internet banking customers follow phishing links, per year, and approximately half of these users are fooled into supplying their details.

Many of the major banks including HSBC and RBS have been quick to remind customers that careless use of social networking sites can actually pose a threat to consumers' overall security. By sharing personal details such as their name, date of birth and information about family members on social media sites, users occasionally inadvertently give fraudsters all the tools they need to access bank accounts and other personal websites.

The overall conclusion of the OTA’s annual audit revealed good general levels of security across all sectors. With this in mind, perhaps it is time that users began to review their own personal privacy policies.

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