Although email scams are a pretty common and well-known threat, many people are totally unaware that malware spread via social media networks is on the rise too. As more people spend time on social networking sites, hackers have turned their focus their way—and it’s even easier to get people to click on malicious links on social media sites since it’s not a place most people are looking for threats, you trust your friends to post links to sites that you’d be interested in, and there’s as-yet not much that social media sites do to prevent the spread of malware via their platforms. To make sure your computer and other devices are as safe as they can be, let’s take a closer look at social media malware, how it affects you, and what you can do about it.
How is it spread?
There are a few different ways that social media malware can be spread. One of the easiest ways is for a hacker to get hold of your login details, access your account, and send out malicious links. Of course, this is pretty easy to spot the next time you log on to your account, but by then, the damage may have already been done. And these aren’t the obvious kinds of links like you might find in email messages either; instead, they could be links to gossip sites, surveys, or other seemingly legitimate sites.
Another method of spreading malware is to hide the malware within something else. For example, someone might create a fake account, befriend you, and share a picture with you that acts as a mask for the malware which will infect your computer. But the people trying to attack you are creative; really, there are any number of methods they might employ.
What’s at risk?
There are a few different things malicious links could do. Some of the bad links you might accidentally click on could give your computer a virus that does nothing more than frustrate you—which is obnoxious, but it’s not the end of the world. But what happens if you fill out a survey with your personal information and it steals things such as your login combination, banking information, or more to use for future use?
You might think that you’d never enter your credit card information on an unknown site, but there are, in fact, people who do! And it could be something even more seemingly benign; you might just try to access a site, find that it isn’t the site you wanted, and close out of it…but not before a worm steals all your passwords by accessing your browser cookies.
Why don’t social media sites filter links better?
There are a couple reasons why even though this is a known phenomenon, social media sites aren’t doing a better job to protect you. One of the problems is that this is still a relatively new occurrence, so it’s taking the sites a bit to catch up.
Another is that they can’t protect you against your own naïveté; if you choose to click on a spammy link, that’s your own fault. But the main reason that there is such a growth in social media malware is that hackers and other wrongdoers are creative and continue to find new ways to bypass any filters that are already in place by the sites, just as they do with creating viruses and more.
How can you protect yourself?
The best way to protect yourself is to be wary when clicking on links and use a little tech savvy to ensure that you have the safest browsing experience possible. Don’t use an easy, generic password that will be easily hacked—and don’t leave your password stuck on a post-it note on your screen. You’re better off using a password that is difficult to crack, even if it’s a bit difficult to remember. If necessary, remember that you can always use a password manager to help you out, but there are some other tricks that could help you too.
You should also adjust your firewall settings and use some strong anti-virus software—and make sure to keep it up-to-date to protect you against the latest threats. And whenever you access the internet, wherever you are, you should use a VPN to encrypt your internet connection and make sure that your cookies (and thereby your passwords) aren’t out there for anyone to see. A VPN will give you an internet connection that’s much more difficult for a hacker to crack, and thus it makes you much less of a target.
Although there are a lot of malicious people out there, you don’t have to constantly worry about threats as long as you use a little common sense and don’t blindly leave your computer open to attack. Make sure you keep yourself informed of possible threats, past and present, both from social media malware and otherwise, and use the available security software to keep yourself safe.