Registrations with social networking sites continue to soar. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, lists over 150 major “active” social networking websites to date. The variety of interests that the networking sites focus on is endless, everything from dating, athletics, clubbing, gaming, photo sharing, blogging, knitting and crocheting, business networking, investing, scientific research, fantasy and sci-fi, anonymous gossip, Alumni, Veterans, or motherhood. There are “invitation only” sites such as the European jet set and social elite site aSmallWorld; and even sites for those wishing to create their own social websites and social networks.
While social networking fosters the benefit of camaraderie, caution in sharing of information via these websites is warranted. Never post information online that you wouldn’t mind sharing with a stranger on the street. One of the biggest areas of security concern in registering with any of these sites is a common denominator that they all require, passwords. Weak passwords are the welcome mat for strangers to hack into your profiles and collect personal information such as contact lists and phone numbers that they can use in targeting email attacks or for selling to spammers.
You should always have separate and secure passwords for log-in to each social networking site you register with and each of your email accounts with them. Repeated use of a weak password is an open door for hackers to access your multiple accounts and perhaps reset your passwords without your knowledge; you need to create STRONG secure passwords. Always avoid using passwords that are easily guessed in combination with any of your online profile information like your spouse’s name, favorite sports team, favorite vacation spot, astrology sign, or a pet’s name. You should also avoid real dictionary words (zigzag, aardvark), letters or numbers in sequence (abcdef, 123456, 222222), don’t use any part of your birthday, or social security number. Hackers use sophisticated programs that can easily decipher weak passwords.
Information Technology Services’ recommendations for creating STRONG passwords can be accessed online at Password Guidelines. One of the ITS guidelines concerns the STRENGTH of passwords; they should contain a mix of special characters, numbers, and the alphabet. This is a security item that requires some creativity on your part; you should develop a personal strategy or methodology for creation of and remembering your passwords. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Use a sentence or passphrase that is easy for you to remember, however it should be something difficult for others to guess. “My favorite toy at age five was a Slinky.”
- Turn this into a password by only using the first letter of each word, MFTAAFWAS
- Add complexity in several ways:
o Mix upper and lower case letters - mfTAaFwaS
o Use numbers instead of words - mfTAa5waS
o Substitute numbers for letters or vice versa; A=1, B=2, C=3, etc. – m6TAa523aS
o Reverse the number/letter scheme – A=26, B=25, C=24 – m21TAa54aS
o Use punctuation marks – m21TAa54aS!
Other strategy options might be to:
- Use capitalization in random places – 25 Dole Street becomes 25doLestrEet
- Use the entire keyboard !@#$%^&*()_+ - @%doLestrEet
- Misspell words - @%doLestrEt
The longer your passwords are and the greater variety of their characters the STRONGER they become against being deciphered. As long as you remember the original words, letters, or numbers and the basic methodology used to create them your passwords should be easy to recall. Be cautioned not to write passwords down on paper or list them in a text document on your desktop where curious prying eyes or hackers can easily access them. One alternative method of password management is the use of a password safe. With a password safe you have control over the organization and access to multiple passwords in one encrypted online location; you need only remember one master password, however if you forget that password access is lost to all stored passwords. A free open source version of Password Safe is available online.
Creating strong passwords, having separate passwords for each website, changing passwords periodically, and using a password safe are all positive steps which can help you feel a little more secure about social networking.