Several weeks ago, I got a message from a Facebook friend suggesting I check out a link she had forwarded. As my index finger hovered above the anchor text, deep down inside something went, “Not so fast.” I opted out of the click-through and, as it turns out, I made the right choice. A few hours later, I received a desperate and dramatic email message from my friend saying, “I’ve been corrupted!” Hackers had gotten a hold of her Facebook password and were passing themselves off as her — those cads.
Unfortunately, social networking has become the latest haven for evildoers of the software kind. Modern malware (malicious software), such as the March 2009 Koobface attempt, often succeed in infecting unsuspecting hosts and then going out and gathering sensitive information (such as credit card numbers) from its victims.
According to a June 2007 survey conducted by the technology research firm Computer Economics Inc., smaller organizations experience an average of five malware events per year and worldwide, malware damage cost businesses $13.3 billion.
Regardless of how many malware attacks you may have experienced, one thing is certain — even one attack can give your productivity a pounding. It can leave you with hours (or days) of computer and communication clean-up work, all of which costs you and your company cash.
So, if you use Twitter and Facebook as a part of your daily work environment, you need to protect your productivity by putting some safeguards in place that keep social media malware from slowing you down. For some expert advice, I turned to Chip Reaves of Computer Troubleshooters. Here are a few of his top tips:
Put anti-virus and anti-spyware software in place: “First and foremost, every computer user on the Internet needs professional, up-to-date protection software that includes both anti-virus and anti-spyware,” says Reaves. While most free packages don’t include anti-spyware measures, many paid ones combine the two. Reaves also suggests looking for a product that includes a link scanner component to minimize the risk of visiting a web site that has been compromised.
Claim your fame, but check your name: By their nature, social networking viruses reach out and touch those closest to you. By pretending to be you, they send messages from your Facebook and Twitter accounts, attempting to dupe hapless friends into opening a harmful link. The upside to this very public display of destruction is that you can help prevent further damage and downtime by regularly checking what’s being said about you and what you are supposedly saying online. This way, if you find an update from yourself — that you didn’t send — you can report the problem, alert your friends, and change your password.
Tweet without using Twitter: The use of third-party applications such as TweetDeck, Twhirl and Tweetie can help block certain worms from entering your computer via the Twitter web site. Reaves also suggests that using your cell phone for Twitter and Facebook updates is a safer bet than going to the web sites directly.
Stay on top of your web browser: “Today’s hackers are not just a bunch of anti-social guys, living at home in their mom’s basement,” says Reaves. Instead, they are a sophisticated and creative bunch of software bandits looking to make money off your network. “These folks are searching for weaknesses in your system,” says Reaves. “You want to make it as hard as possible for them to find one.”
One way to do this is to make certain that you’re using the most up-to-date version of your web browser. Malware creators looking to infect your computer take advantage of the vulnerability in older browsers — even ones just a few months old — to meet their evil aims. For the highest level of security, consider using Firefox plus the NoScript extension to block out your most open areas of exposure.
Change your password quarterly: Although this falls under the category of “no kidding,” many of us skip this step in protecting ourselves. “Even I realize I don’t do this often enough,” admits Reaves. Most malware figures out your password and then uses your Twitter or Facebook account to wreck havoc. First and foremost, if you find you’re locked out of your own account because the password changed, be suspicious and contact the service’s support team immediately. If you believe that you are infected, change your password immediately. Other than that, Reaves suggests changing your password quarterly to keep the cyber criminals at bay.
Unfortunately, in the age of viral marketing, computer viruses are part of the package. And while you can’t reduce your risk 100 percent, you can go a long way toward minimizing it by putting in place some simple protections that, while they will take up some of your time now, could save your productivity later.
What measures do you take to avoid social media malware?