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The Privacy Paradox

As Facebook begins the process of rolling out extensive new changes for its user interface and adding in the controversial Graph Search functionality, questions and concerns about the privacy implications for both features are inevitably going to arise. What exactly will Facebook be sharing with the world, and how can we protect ourselves from Graph Search abusers?
A recent blog post by SecureState’s Tom Eston answers these important questions.  However, online privacy problems go far beyond new additions to Facebook; the public outcry that consistently accompanies online privacy demonstrates the great Social Media paradox. Social networking companies are only capable of accessing and distributing information that users themselves are already freely sharing online. But with the very existence of Social Media completely dependent on user-generated content, where does one draw the line with sharing? In truth, anonymity on the Internet is really what you make of it. While the benefits of worldwide social connections range from the mundane to the revolutionary, unchecked sharing online can put users in very real danger.

While some Internet users today are savvy enough to avoid the pitfalls of traditional, email-based social engineering attacks, criminals and scam artists are learning to use online-based open source intelligence gathering to more effectively target their attacks. Sharing of basic information like birth dates, hobbies, and work history may seem harmless to the average user, but to an identity thief, this information provides answers to the basic security questions typically used in account verifications and password resets.

The consequences of over sharing on social networking websites go well beyond targeted ads and identity theft however. Since the advent of Internet-based Social Media, criminal organizations and extremist networks have been using big name sites to spread propaganda and recruit new members on a worldwide scale. Today, popular features like geotagging in Twitter, Facebook, and other popular sites are increasingly making it easier for these same groups to plan and facilitate real world operations. From the Al-Shabaab network in the Horn of Africa to the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico, sinister users have been quick to adapt to emerging Social Media trends.

In some ways, national security starts at the user level. Being cognizant of one’s own online footprint promotes personal safety and deters those who would exploit the features of Social Media for nefarious purposes.

For a more in depth look at the privacy paradox and the broader implications of over sharing online, please read my recent white paper, “The Problem with Privacy”.