Social media, a term that is so familiar to all of us today. In fact, it is probably the most powerful digital force out there in use by both individuals and businesses alike. Individuals use it to create and connect, as well as gain popularity and businesses would fail without being able to market themselves on social media these days. To appreciate this raw power of social media, it is enough simply to peer at some global statistics. According to the latest statistics, more than 4.2 billion people are active on the various social media platforms. Furthermore, 4.15 billion of the 4.2 or so billion are active on mobile devices. As far as the audience size is concerned, Facebook is by far the most popular form of social media. The industry figures are also interesting, where Western Europe, India and the UAE are the most active regions/countries when it comes to social media. If we look at Instagram, it is the United States and India, with over 500 million daily instagram users interacting with the ‘story’ feature. Currently, almost 60% of the entire global population is active on the internet, over 90% of which are accessing the internet on mobile devices. When it comes to who uses social media, the highest numbers come in from Millenials and GenZ. Generation Alpha are forecasted to be the dominant force on social media in a few years time, as they are still very young. So, social media plays a huge role in our lives, and the world relies on it.
Once upon a time, when social media was in its infancy, the scope of what you could do on social media was very limited (although it didn’t seem that way). Until about the 2010s, social media was a time of nudges, winks, appearing offline and being excited about the novelty of being in the ‘know’. Custom usernames and custom profile pages were all the rage on a young social media, something we didn’t experience before. Before Facebook or YouTube were even launched in the mid 2000s, there were simple forms of social media such as the revolutionary MySpace, Friendster, Hi5 and of course MSN and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). LinkedIN was also, interestingly, active and considered a ‘social media’ before Facebook, the benchmark which would take over in 2008, was launched. Today, social media is a totally different universe. It has risen from simply an online meeting place to a commercialized global power which goes as far as to affect business, politics and the world stage. The likes of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the dominant forces diversified in the social media sector, togethering garnering half of the global population.
Yes, social media is a digital revolution for all humanity, but what about the real-world issues? As positive as the invention is, staying secure on social media is a huge topic in cybersecurity circles, because as much as it is a spring of creativity and connection, it is also filled with malicious attackers and plagued by online privacy issues which we must be aware of.
What Do Cybersecurity And Online Privacy Refer to?
Cybersecurity and online privacy are both terms that arise from the internet security agenda, and are in fact interchangeable at times. Cybersecurity refers to the solutions available ranging from software to the knowledge base in terms of the internet safety of internet users. Online privacy is more like a sub-theme of cybersecurity. Online privacy is self-explanatory, it means exactly that, our privacy online. Both cybersecurity and online privacy are vitally important topics today, because we as internet users are not protected or private online anymore (especially if we do not take steps to remedy this fact). Cyber attackers (hackers) are looking to steal and destroy, while ad companies and tech companies in general are looking at snooping on your social media and browsing data, either for collection or for sale.
What Are The Cybersecurity Risks on Social Media?
Social media is now a vessel for politics, news, people’s private lives, business and just silly entertainment in general (think Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIN and Instagram). What does this mean for social media users when we consider the cybersecurity (safety) side of things? What are the implications of having a social media presence, in this case? There are quite a few dangers on social media nowadays;
- Social engineering scams
- Incorrect sharing practices
- Phishing attempts
- Data breaches
These are generally the main issues that one can encounter as a typical social media user today, and each one is quite scary in its own right. We’ll look into why this is all happening, and how to mitigate this for your own safety (and the safety of others that you may want to educate on the subject).
Tips for Staying Safe on Social Media Today
Why are there dangers on social media today, and why aren’t they regulated? Well, this is both a very good question, and a tough question but we will attempt to shed some light on the matter. The reason there are dangers on social media today is because it has never been easier for cybercriminals to launch attacks, and e.g. for ad companies to gather information on internet users and then profit from it. Cybercriminals have devised complex strategies to scam, engage in fraud and socially engineer tricks to collect data from people, with a lot of software openly available to them to do this, no less. Their attack surface (the number of ways they can launch attacks) is so great today, because there are so many unsuspecting users online as well as multiple platforms to try their malicious schemes on.
The EU’s GDPR privacy act and California’s CCPA are very strict government bills that have been passed to protect people from such things, but most of the world has not implemented any such regulations. There are currently no general fundamental laws applied globally on cybersecurity and privacy, because each nation adjusts this to fit their governance and political agenda. The internet is also essentially an enormous, democratic, open and ungoverned space where the law and law enforcement agencies cannot keep up with protecting everyone from harm. Internet users, and especially social media users, need to take things into their own hands and educate themselves on how to stay cybersecure. If care is not taken, the risk of losing your money or having your private details in others hands is too great. So, let’s look at the dangers lurking on social media and how to massively improve your cyber security;
Phishing (inspired by fishing) is exactly that, a way for cybercriminals to bait the internet user, like a fisherman baiting a fish, into what is essentially a trap unbeknownst to them. Cybercriminals, or hackers, are today able to create a fake website (spoofed) which is indiscernible from the real thing. They will use tactics like sending a scam email with a dangerous link or attachment, from where they can ‘phish’ out usernames, passwords and anything else from there. You should always directly access your social media, never through an email link or message, let alone download an unknown attachment. There are also other techniques with similar names, such as vishing, smishing and pharming.
Social engineering basically means tactics that cybercriminals use to gain the trust and closeness of an internet user. This may be in the form of direct messages asking for a donation or some form of help, a link to an article etc. These schemes are designed so that you eventually give up bits and pieces of information which the cybercriminals can later piece together to gain access to your accounts, or even know where you live. They prey on naive people, gain their trust and engage in their crimes from there onwards.
The problem is that most people will have social media profiles that have the privacy features disabled, will use the same, simple passwords across multiple accounts and will share practically their entire lives with the rest of the world with no afterthought at all. Cybercriminals lurking in the underground will spy on and monitor such people, looking for entry points and clues like vultures. Even still, all of the big tech companies, from Facebook to Google, are known to collect data about you and have had their fair share of privacy scandals to boot. Big data breaches also happen under the radar, so your email address has probably been leaked several times, along with the details of hundreds of millions of other people.
Other than adjusting your social media settings, avoiding oversharing and avoiding phishing, as well as using common sense when browsing the dangerous internet jungle, there are a few other things you need to make into a habit even before you start browsing the internet. Download and use a VPN or Virtual Private Network to cloak, obfuscate and encrypt your connection at all times, as well as download a professionally reviewed anti malware software. Finally, always keep your system and all of its apps updated!