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Protecting your accounts during high-traffic weekends

With the recent hack of Taylor Swift’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, and the upcoming annual social media spectacle around the Super Bowl, now is a good time to check on the security of your social media accounts.

1. Choose a complex/unique password for your account, and use two-factor authentication.

For passwords, consider using a passphrase, which is a phrase or sentence consisting of multiple words. If you can add a number in there, and make it 14 characters or longer, your account can be considered a lot more secure against any attackers. If possible, consider using two-factor authentication, which will involve either sending a separate access code to your phone or using a separate token generator. Two-factor authentication is the simplest way to greatly reduce the odds of any successful attack.

2. Adjust the default settings on your account.

Depending on the social media platform, a variety of settings can be adjusted for greater protection. On Facebook and Twitter, users can select to hide their updates from anyone not on their friend lists, making your account much more private. Remember to regularly check these settings, as various social media platforms have been known to change the settings when updating the platform.

3. Do not install applications from sources you don’t trust.

While there are a variety of applications that can be used with social media platforms, be careful about which ones you are using. Read up on an application to be sure it is safe before downloading it to your phone. Untrusted applications can knowingly or unknowingly open your accounts up to a variety of vulnerabilities, potentially leading to a compromise.

4. Read the privacy policy and terms of service carefully.

Using any social media requires agreeing with these two policies for that company, so read over them and make sure you understand them before sharing your information with the company.

5. Exercise caution when posting information. Consider all information and pictures you post as public.

No matter how careful you are, things can happen. An update to Facebook can reset all the privacy settings people have, or an attacker can successfully break into your account. For this reason, consider anything you post to be completely public. If you don’t want everyone to be able to know that about you, don’t put it on social media, no matter what your settings or passwords.

6. Only click on trusted links.

Any time you are considering clicking on a link, take a moment to consider the link and its source. Examining a link can be hard, as often links are abbreviated for use on social media sites with length limits such a Twitter. If they are not abbreviated, look to be sure they are to a trusted site, and that the site being linked to (which is often previewed at the bottom of your browser) matched the link itself. If you can’t see the full address being linked to, consider the source of the link. Is this a person you can trust not be sending you malicious links? Do you think this person is likely to protect themselves well against having their accounts compromised? If the answer to either of those is “no”, maybe don’t click that link.

7. Only accept followers from people you know directly.

The best way to ensure that your social media feeds are full of genuine and safe links is to only befriend people who you know and trust. As more and more people focus on social media, or on specific accounts (for example Katy Perry’s account this weekend, with her upcoming Super Bowl performance), the odds that someone will hack the accounts and post false links and malware definitely increase. Being careful about who you are following and who you associate your account with can definitely improve your chances of remaining safe.

No social media presence can ever be 100% secure, but by following some basic tips and remaining vigilant, you can protect yourself while still taking advantage of what social media has to offer.