As the amount of activity on social networks continues to grow, more members are taking steps to protect their privacy, but opportunities abound for security risks, according to research commissioned by Webroot, a provider of Internet security software for the consumer, enterprise and SMB markets.
Webroot's second annual study surveyed more than 1,100 members of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and other popular social networks. The survey showed an increasing awareness among social network users of how to keep personal information private.
At the same time, it revealed how social network users still put their identities and sensitive information at risk. The survey found that more users are practicing certain safe behaviors, including blocking their profiles from being visible through public search engines-a 37 percent increase over last year. However, more than a quarter of respondents have never changed their default privacy settings and more than three quarters place no restrictions on who can see their recent activity.
In addition, Webroot has seen a rise in spam on social networks, which commonly contains links to malicious Website links. The survey showed a 23 percent increase in spam received on social networks since last year. Younger users (ages 18-29) are the least likely to take steps to safeguard their information, with 43 percent of young users employing the same password across multiple sites compared with 32 percent overall. In general, privacy settings continue to be underutilized, with 28 percent of users reporting they've never changed their default privacy settings, though 27 percent of users now restrict who can find their profile through a public search engine, up from 20 percent last year.
"A perfect storm is developing between the number of people flocking to social networks and the new, increasingly sophisticated malware attacks cyber-criminals are launching to prey on the personal data they're sharing," said Jeff Horne, director of threat research at Webroot. "For example, our team has noted over 100 different variations of Koobface, a worm known to trick people into clicking links they shouldn't in order to infect their PCs and often convince them to provide credit card numbers to buy phony antivirus products, among other fraudulent activities."
The survey also found 67 percent now use different passwords for each of their social networks, up from 64 percent last year, while 47 percent know who can see their profile, up from 41 percent last year. However, although 73 percent of survey respondents were aware of Facebook's December 2009 privacy changes that automatically exposed their full profiles by default, 42 percent report they haven't made changes to their settings since the switch.
"Consumers need to better protect themselves by guarding their profiles and setting stricter privacy policies-especially given the growing popularity in location-based social media tools that broadcast where you are," Horne said. "It's also important to make sure your computer has an added layer of security to stop attacks before they happen."