Social networking sites a ticking security time bomb, study indicates

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Islandia (NY) - Social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook may pose more security risks than physical threats such as sexual predators contacting kids and teenagers. A survey raises the concern that fraud, identity theft and computer spyware and viruses combined with negligent user behavior could flourish on social networking sites.

Finding new friends, communication and trust are a big factor in the success of social networking websites. However, but a false sense of security among participants could have dramatic consequences, according to a survey released today by CA and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). The study, which exclusively focused on online behavior of users and analyzed the answers of 2163 respondents, found that 57% of users of social networking sites and who are actually concerned about potential security risks still reveal critical information. Almost three out of four users, 74%, already have given out some sort of personal information, such as their e-mail address, name, birthday and even their social security number.

In contrast to common perception, a large number of social networking users are adults. 47% of users are between the ages of 18 and 34, which, according to CA and the NCSA, may be a sign of the increasing popularity - and potential security risks - of these sites. Adults, however appear to be even less careful with their personal data in those networks: The study found that 83% of adults expose themselves to hackers and identity thieves, by downloading content from the websites of other members. 31% of adults who use social networking sites have responded to phishy unsolicited email or instant messages, the survey states.

Some employers may be concerned about the fact that 46% of users who have access to a computer at their office, engage in social networking during work times.

"Although the general community thinks most social networking users are teens, the CA/ NCSA survey showed the popularity of these sites is extending beyond young early adopters to other segments of the population," said Ron Texeria, executive director of the NCSA. "Those who frequent these sites should be aware the data they share may make them prey for online attacks. Giving out a social security number, paired with a birthday and name could provide enough ammunition for criminals to hack into financial records and compromise users' personal information."

It appears that parents are becoming more aware of the risks and are taking security precautions for their children. According to the study, 64% of parents who have children under the age of 17 monitor their children's profiles and 49 percent have only allowed their children's profile to be seen by his/her friends. Many adults also have discussed safety precautions with their children: 94% have discussed how to watch for predators, 72% have discussed how to watch out for malicious software and 64% have discussed how to watch out for fraudsters trying to steal money.

However, it does not take much imagination that the growing popularity of social networking sites and a false sense of security of users could easily exploited by malicious users. According to the survey, 83% of social networking users do not restrict access to their profiles, 65% do not worry about becoming victims and 73% of users do not worry about being the target of a crime while being on a social networking site, the survey says.