Stay Safe On Social Networks

Despite the well-publicised security and privacy risks of social networking, it is possible to reap the benefits of social networking and stay safe at the same time. Here's how.

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Howard Schmidt was reluctant to hop on the social networking bandwagon - a by-product, he says, of the paranoia he internalises as a security professional. Eventually, though, Schmidt - the one-time cybersecurity adviser to president Bush and itinerant CISO turned consultant - decided the positives outweighed the negatives. He joined not just one social network but three: Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.

"My response to those in the security business lamenting the existence of Facebook and MySpace is to ask them if they've ever been on it," says Schmidt.

Bill Boni, too, took the social networking leap - with gusto. The long-time corporate vice president of information security and protection at Motorola, he has now racked up more than 500 connections on LinkedIn. For him, social networking is all about amplifying his effectiveness as a security executive. He says the site allows him to keep in touch with people and gives him an opportunity to tap into "additional sources of expertise."

Despite the well-publicised security and privacy risks of social networking, both Boni and Schmidt say it's possible to reap the benefits of social networking and stay safe at the same time. You just have to stay vigilant and be smart. Here's their advice.

1. Do your homework

Boni hesitated to join LinkedIn until he had adequate time and opportunity to research the site. Despite being recruited to join by numerous colleagues whom he trusted, he wanted to pass his own judgment first.

Before you join, talk to people you know and trust about their experiences with social networking. Different people have different comfort levels, which may dictate which site (or sites) you decide to join. For instance, LinkedIn contains mostly fields for resume-type information, while Facebook also asks about your politics, religion, and favourite books and movies (not that you have to answer).

After reviewing each site, ask yourself which site you would benefit from most, what type of features you want and what type of information you are comfortable sharing. Schmidt notes that careful research also may help quell your anxieties and misconceptions about social networking.

2. Secure your settings

The benefit of social networking is directly related to the openness of it, Schmidt says, so privacy and security can be tricky. But each site has various options, and you can decide how much or little you want or lock down your information. Profiles on any of the sites can be set as public or private - with a private profile being accessible only to those you are connected to or "friends" with.

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