With hundreds of millions of users, social media websites have revolutionized the way people use their computers. Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter, bring friends and colleagues together from across the world. An industry report from ComScore found that over 82 percent of the world’s online population is using some form of social media (1.2 billion users world-wide). Unfortunately, the popularity of social media sites has also made social media a prime target for criminals. We’ll look at some tips for staying safe with social media. 

According to TIME, as much as 40 percent of social network users are exposed to some form of malware. As a result, social media users face a variety of dangers, including drive-by-downloads, malvertising, targeted attacks, worms and password theft. Simply being aware of these threats and understanding how they work is the first step in protecting yourself from a growing array of sophisticated social media attacks.

Below are five tips to help you stay protected. 

1. Use strong passwords and change them often. A regular schedule for changing passwords is very important to staying safe on social media sites. The best passwords use at least eight-characters and mix upper and lower case letters with numbers and symbols. You should create a schedule to change your password every at least 90 days—and use different passwords for different accounts.

2. Be careful what you post and share. The information you post on social media sites is public and available to just about anyone online. Just because you’ve engaged the privacy setting doesn’t mean somebody won’t be able to get around it—nor does it ensure that the privacy setting will always work. Cyber thieves troll social media sites looking for personal information they can reuse in social engineering attacks. And more businesses today want to look at a prospective employee’s Facebook site to get a better picture of who they may be hiring. Remember: the information you post on social media sites can follow you. 

3. Never ‘friend’ strangers. For some users, acquiring the most ‘friends’ on their social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn can be competitive. People with 500 or more friends often ‘accept’ friend requests automatically—even if they don’t know the person. But even if you went to high school with the person doesn’t mean you should give them access to your personal information. To stay safe, you should never ‘friend’ anyone that you don’t really know. 

4. Always run anti-virus (AV) software. This is a basic level of defense that can really help keep you protected from many social media threats. In some cases, you may have to save downloaded files, manually scan them with AV software, then open the file. Many AV programs automatically scan downloaded files to ensure they don’t contain any known viruses and others allow you to schedule regular AV file scans. 

5. Always install software updates. When manufacturers release software updates, most of the time these updates include patches for security holes created by new vulnerabilities. Today’s sophisticated attackers can reverse engineer updates to identify and exploit a specific vulnerability—and if you have not installed the most recent updates, your computer is at risk. Next time you receive a notification that updates are available, be sure to install the patches in a timely manner. 

There’s no doubt that dangers do exist on social media sites. By being aware of the risks and following basic safety guidelines, you can still enjoy the benefits of your favorite social networks. 

Dell SonicWALL’s Security Portal has a vast knowledge for security. Visit our Dell SonicWALL Security Portal to download our new network security ebooks.