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Posting personal Information online? Beware if you overshare!

A new Microsoft study shows that before posting personal information online, more than half of U.S. teens and parents don’t truly consider the potential consequences of their actions.  Teens recognize the importance of limiting what they share online, yet they still reveal more personal data than their parents.  Six in 10 teens also say they have so-called “friends” in their social networks whom they’ve never met in person.

Chances are you already have a “digital reputation,” and you may not even know it.  On the Internet, we create an image of ourselves through the information we share in blogs, comments, tweets, photos, videos, and the like. Others add their opinions – both good and bad – and contribute to our online reputations.  Anyone can find this information and make judgments.  Accordingly, everyone needs to be cognizant of what they’re posting online, and how that aggregated information can tell one’s personal story and shape their digital impression.

A recent Microsoft survey  found that 79 percent of hiring managers and job recruiters in the U.S. said they routinely review online reputational information when considering job applicants.   All of sudden, that photo of you partying hardy or playing a practical joke on a friend may not be so funny after all even if you consider them your private matter. College admissions officers are also looking into social networks. As college board vice president James Montoya points out, the people who evaluate applications at most schools are “often under 30 years old and often Facebook users themselves.” Of course they will check out your online reputation. Should a partying foto matter? I agree – no it shouldn’t. Can it make the tipping point in deciding for or against an applicant? Yes it very well can. As the Microsoft study shows – 70% of employers have turned down job applicants because they didn’t like what they found online.

Managing one’s online behavior and reputation is a key component of being a good digital citizen. Digital citizenship is usually defined as “the norms of behavior with regard to technology use.”  But digital citizenship is more than just teaching social norms – it’s a way to prepare young people for life in a technology-rich society. Digital citizenship empowers young people and helps them develop a sense of ownership and personal responsibility – in order to make appropriate, ethical decisions in the online world.

In an effort to create a culture of “good digital citizens,” Microsoft is committed to helping youth, teens, parents and caregivers think about their online reputations.  Today we are releasing a new whitepaper titled Fostering Digital Citizenship and a Teen Reputation Guide.  The guide notes a series of tips, including …

  • Tip 1 If you wouldn’t wear it, Don’t share it!
  • Tip 2 Don’t use technology as a weapon. Really angry? Walk away from the keyboard – hands off your smartphone.
  • Tip 3 Know what the Internet is telling people about you. Regularly search yourself online.
  • Tip 4 Create strong passwords, change them often, and don’t share them with friends.

We make a host of digital citizenship resources available at our Safety & Security Center.  In addition to our research, reputation guide and whitepaper we’ve recently created three infographics, depicting how teens spend their time online, as well as an “at school” Internet safety tip card. Check them out or contact me if you are interested in learning more.

Rather than relying solely on protective measures, an approach to online safety that includes digital citizenship will help young people interact more safely in the online world. Teaching them about digital literacy, and digital ethics and etiquette is an important part of successfully navigating today’s online and offline world. It can make the difference between getting into the university they want and getting the job they applied for.

FaceNiff – who is posting your Facebook updates?

So, you are sitting at Starbucks or at the airport or any other relatively crowded place and you have Facebook open or twitter or Amazon. You look to your right and see a nicely dressed woman/man tap on his/her mobile. Maybe you are smiling – thinking that he/she texts too much. Well – think again – because your seemingly nice neighbor might be in that second updating your Facebook status, adding weird “Friends”, posting a twitter message or rummaging through your Amazon shopping basket.

What? How? Why? These are the thoughts that might run through your mind. Well it’s easy – because there is a new app in town running on Android. It’s called FaceNiff and it highjacks everybody’s Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Amazon and Nasza-Klasa account (more to come) that has it open on the same wireless network. It’s not really much new – firesheep did more or less the same a while ago but now it’s even less obvious and even easier (watch the video on here). It is a shame that the platforms that are affected did not take the firesheep warning serious and secure their systems better and maybe they learn from it. However, I see the problem at least as much in the mobile platform. Android is in effect an open platform. If you have an app that runs on it – you can install it. It might be easier or harder but even something that is just out there to download can be put on a rooted device. This leaves the door wide open to take the step to develop mobile platforms into mobile attack platforms. The mobile devices get more and more powerful and they are so unintrusive – the perfect platform for the new cyber criminal. And yes – I regard everybody that breaks into my accounts as a cyber criminal. There is no glory involved – it is just cheap and it’s exploiting my privacy and might be harmful to me and/or my reputation.

So what should we do? First – think again if you sign into any of the affected platforms when connected to a shared network. Second, show to providers that you support closed platforms. As an example, you will not find FaceNiff on a Microsoft Windows Phone platform because Microsoft (and others too to some extent) has a phone architecture that only lets apps installed through the their marketplace. Only apps get onto the marketplace that have been tested. And there is no jealbreak for WP7 so that option is out too. So you can favor platforms that protect you and you can write to the makers of the less secure platforms and voice your concern. Please do iit if you care. Will it help for the next time you sit at Starbucks? No it will not – but I believe that in time the platform(s) will survive that serve all customers and not just an individual. This is not about telling you what you are allowed to do on your mobile – as long as you are doing something legitimate. Consumers should have a choice, they should be able to make choices. That is what brings us further and boosts innovation. But I also want to have my private and work life on an Internet that is more secure for everybody than what we see today and phone platforms will have a massive impact on that.

So, if you sit at Starbucks next time – maybe look around with a new question on your mind. Who is posting updates on their own – and who on other person’s accounts. You might be surprised.

About the Author

Reto is partner at PwC Switzerland. He is leading the Cybersecurity practice and is member of PwC Digital Services leadership Team. He has over 15 years work experience in an information security and risk focused IT environment. Prior to working at PwC he was Microsoft's Chief Security Officer for Western Europe and also has work experience as group CIO, Chief Risk Officer, Technical Director and Program Manager.

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