New Year's Resolution: No More Social Media Quizzes

I'm back from vacation and look forward to getting back to updating my blog. The following was published in the January 5, 2020 editions of Foster's and Seacoast Sunday.

Happy New Year! As with all new years, New Year’s resolutions are everywhere right now. From hitting the gym, to starting a diet, to calling long lost friends and family. Among your New Year’s resolutions should be one to be more technologically secure in 2020.

One of the things I have noticed on the increase lately is people participating in social media games and quizzes, especially on Facebook. It may come as a surprise to know many of the people you seem most active on these quizzes and promoting them to others are also people who seem to put out somewhat regular alerts that their social media account has been hacked. Does this sound at all familiar? It should.

Experts have warned for years that participating in these social media games could expose your identity to hackers. While they often seem innocent, and many probably are, enough of them are not such that you should stop doing them.

Hackers have become very good at crafting quizzes that trick you to give away personal details that can be used to steal your identity. Over the course of time, if you participate in enough of these quizzes and games, you are highly likely to reveal many, if not all, of the answers to your only account security questions. Hackers are expert at compiling this data from across multiple entries, even from multiple platforms, in order to put together enough of a picture to become you and gain access to your online accounts.

Most people don’t have their accounts hacked as a result of a single event, though that happens. Many times, people use the same username and password across multiple websites. One of these sites gets hacked and the hacker has access to your password. They then inject it across multiple sites that are popular, like Facebook, Instagram and others and then find out if they have access to login or if they need answers to your security questions. If they do, and you have participated in online games and quizzes, they often have your answers and take over your account.

The simplest way to protect yourself is to simply not play these games or do these quizzes. You should also never authorize other sites to access your social media profile from another. You should be using a unique and strong password on every site. You should also be using two-factor authentication on every site that supports it.

Many experts also recommend using fake answers to security questions. If you eldest child’s name is Joseph, use Frank for the response to a security question that asks for your oldest child’s name. If your mother’s maiden name is O’Keefe, use Sullivan instead. Yes, it’s more information to remember, but it should be very simple to come up with your own deception to defeat the hackers trying to gain access to your accounts.

Make your New Year’s resolution one to be more secure online and technologically in general. You’ll be glad you did, as will I.