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Avoid Potential Social Networking Nightmares

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace provide a tempting source of personal information for computer hackers, posing threats to your privacy and security. “The more usable these sites are, the less secure they become,” said Roger Thompson, head researcher for a leading computer software protection firm, AVG Technologies.

The real danger for most people lies in the discloser of too much personal information. For example, one of the things banks use as a security question is “What city you were born in?” or, “What's your mother's maiden name?” Well, guess what? That's exactly the kind of thing you are likely to disclose on the surveys on these social networking sites. And it’s very difficult to know how much stuff gets leaked.

To Keep Your Privacy, Be Private

You really have to be very cautious about what information you put out there. “I never say anything on any of those sites that I wouldn't want my children, or my mother, or my boss or my spouse to read because they probably will. That stuff all gets leaked somewhere,” said Thompson.

Personal information is the pot at the end of the rainbow for computer hackers. The Federal Trade Commission reports that 26 percent of all complaints to the agency in 2008 were about identity theft, mainly credit card fraud.

A Word About Passwords

" height=123 alt="User name (different on each site). Password (also different and sometimes required to change periodically). Domain (another tech term). Who can keep it all straight any more?
" hspace=2 src="" width=190 align=left vspace=2 border=0>Passwords are still a safe way to protect your personal information, but if you use the same password on more than one Web site, you are compromising that protection. “Actually a better plan these days is to have lots of passwords and write them down and stick it in your wallet. At least if you lose your wallet you know you've got to change all your passwords,” said Thompson.

Parental Advice

“I'm very careful about what I information I provide to others,” said Thompson. “But I can promise you that my kids are not careful.” So what are parents to do? Thompson suggests parent instill in their children a healthy dose of skepticism. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. “If you get something that says you are ‘a winner,’ you probably are not a winner. I have to tell my kids all the time, ‘I'm sorry kids you are not a winner,” said Thompson.

As a computer security researcher, Thompson admits the “bad guys” are cleaver and work hard to keep one step ahead of security fixes. “It’s actually hard to keep stuff safe,” he said. But there is technology available that will help. Thompson’s company has a product called ‘Link Scanner’ that scans websites and looks for potential problems. “They can get it at It’s free. There’s no reason for people not to install it. That’ll help a lot.”