Dave Hansen | May 1st, 2018

Article written by Dave Hansen of ACES – article was published in the April 2018 issue of Cedar Valley Business Monthly

Let’s face it, you probably have had your Facebook account for many years now and likely never gave much thought to who can see your page or what other information people can learn about you.  Criminals have used Facebook for years to gain information about their victims or potential victims because so much can be learned by visiting someone’s Facebook page.  While my focus in this article is on Facebook, you should consider each of your social media accounts when reviewing the security of your own social media.

People are often quite surprised that unless you have changed your privacy settings in Facebook, it is likely that anyone can see anything you post, any post you are tagged on, your email that you used to set-up your account and even your personal phone number.  Let’s talk about how to set up your account to keep your personal information from being available to anyone who comes looking for it.

We’ll start by getting to the place where you can view and edit your account settings in Facebook.  Log onto your Facebook account from a desktop or laptop computer if you have one available as navigating to your account settings is somewhat easier using a full-sized screen than it is on a tablet or phone.  Once in Facebook, look to the right side of the blue top menu bar for a black downward pointing triangle just to the right of the question mark in a circle.  Click on this triangle and then click on “Settings” towards the bottom of this menu.

First click on “Security and Login” on the left side menu.  I suggest that you change your password if you are using a password that you use on other online account.  You should also use a password that is at least eight characters long and the longer the better.  While managing passwords can be challenging, it is a good idea to use different passwords for every online account you have.  Write them in a journal, put them into a secured memo on your phone, use a password management application or just create a unique way to name each one so you can remember it.

An example would be to use a common word and add the website name with a unique number for each online account.  For example, I could use the word “Guitar” then add the word “Facebook” with the number “8” for a password of “GuitarFacebook8” and all I need to remember or take note of is the number 8.  In this case, perhaps my Amazon password would be “GuitarAmazon3” again with the only thing I really need to remember being the number 3 for my Amazon account.  With automated password hacking technology, longer is better even if it is easy to remember.  You can change your password periodically by simply changing the first word on your passwords.

Next let’s click on “Privacy” on the left menu.  Here you can select who sees your future posts from the entire public to friends only or perhaps you want to exclude specific friends from seeing your posts.  Be careful when changing settings about posts you are tagged in or limiting the audience for old posts as these changes can be difficult to undo.  I will remain focused on changing things in your account settings that will take effect moving forward but it is your account so do what you want with it.

Also under the “Privacy” menu are settings for who can send you friend requests, who can see your friends list and even who can look up the email and phone number that you used when you set up your account.  Most people don’t know that personal information like this can be gathered by anyone who finds your account on Facebook unless you have set the available restrictions.  You are only allowed to limit this to friends so if there is anyone on your friends list who you would like to keep from getting this information, you may want to remove them from your friends list.

The last thing you can do here is block your Facebook account from showing up in searches from places outside of Facebook like Google or other search engines.  You may want to do this if you are concerned about people from finding you through a simple online search.

The next item on the left side menu is called “Timeline and Tagging.”  From this menu you can decide who can post on your timeline, who can see what others post on your timeline plus options for tagging and for reviewing various things before they are posted.  While there are several other settings that can be adjusted, the last area I want to make note of is the “Blocking” option in the left side menu.  Please explore the other areas and read about what these other functions do.

The blocking menu allows you to block users altogether, block messages from a specific person on your friends list, block those annoying invites from any app that a specific friend uses, block event invites from specific friends and other things that you may want to remove from your Facebook experience.  You can also create a “Restricted List” of people who are on your friends list.  This allows you to restrict specific people who remain on your friends list but with whom you don’t want to share your posts.  If you restrict your posts to “Friends Only” in the Privacy menu previously discussed, this setting allows you to take that restriction a step further.

All of this may sound like a variety of ways to restrict communication or block people that you don’t like or find annoying, and it is, but more importantly it is important to understand how to keep your personal information that you intend to share with friends from being available to anyone who comes looking for it.  Criminals have been using social media to learn about and manipulate people for years.  This criminal strategy is called social engineering and can be used for anything like learning when someone is on vacation, leaving their home exposed to an easier break-in, to tricking people into giving up private information about themselves, their friends or even work colleagues for criminal use.

Think about how convincing it would be if someone called your personal phone saying that your “mutual friend” needed your help in some way.  They saw a Facebook post showing you with that friend at a recent event and they have learned their children’s names, where they grew up, where they went to school, where they work and other information about them.  They could create a very convincing story designed to trick you into giving up additional information that could help them commit a crime.  Please do your part and secure your Facebook account for starters, then check your other social media for ways to keep your information private from people who could use it to harm you, your family or friends.

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