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DUBAI: You've got a holiday coming up. Or maybe you got engaged. Or got a pet. Either way, you're happy and now everyone needs to know about it. You put it on Facebook. Just as you have every other emotion, photograph and memory that make up your life - unaware of the danger you may be putting yourself in.

You, just like every other unsuspecting victim, may be walking into a trap.

"People tend to share way too much information on Facebook, posting personal pictures and status updates for all to see. When people start revealing their e-mail address, phone number or home address, things get dangerous. Doing so allows cyber criminals to steal your identity with minimum effort," warns Bulent Teksoz, Chief Security Strategist at Symantec, the company behind anti-virus software Norton.

According to the Cybercrime 2011 report by Symantec, 76 per cent of internet users in the UAE have experienced cybercrime over the last 12 months, a relatively high figure when compared to an average of 65 per cent internationally.

Amol Kadam, General Manager at Innovation Digital, a firm that specialises in social media amongst other things, warns of the dangers of Facebooking your most private details. "What many people don't realise is that when they put their information up on a social media website such as Facebook, they are, in effect, signing over that information to anyone in the world to access. Every time you download or use an application, Facebook has the legal rights to access and pass it on to third parties," says Kadam.

Take for example the window that pops up every time you use an app. Those who read the fine print will see that in the request for permission box are two major points. [The application] is requesting permission to access your basic information (name, profile, picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends etc, and your contact information (address and mobile number).

As Kadam points out, most people click ‘allow' without ever bothering to read what they are allowing into their lives. "You're giving away an A to Z information sheet about yourself through your online pictures, posts and information. Companies have the right to use that information. Every word you put up on Facebook is immortal. Just because a post isn't visible on your wall any longer, does not mean it's disappeared from cyber space."

Earlier this month, about six millions Facebook accounts were hacked into, with adult content circulating on people's walls. "Facebook has various applications. Unknowingly, users allow those apps to access their wall," says Teksoz. "Not all of these apps are legitimate. Some are malicious and put taps on your site so that anyone who clicks on your page gets affected too. Once clicked, the virus acts on your behalf and posts links onto your wall. When your friends click those links, they get directed to a malicious website which gets access to their browser, thereby stealing all the information from their computer, including e-mails, passwords, etc."

In the Cybercrime 2011 Report, 51 per cent of all cybercrimes in the UAE involve computer viruses and malware, with social media identity theft listed as one of the top five cyberthreats.

As both Kadam and Teksoz agree, more often than not companies Google a person and check their Facebook before hiring them. In relationships, prospective partners often do the same. "The number of people who say one thing and are then proved wrong through Facebook photos and statuses is large," says Kadam. "Here in the UAE, there are many single people who feel the need to create a platform to exhibit themselves from. As a result, they create a virtual identity for themselves on Facebook, saying everything possible to make themselves attractive to others. Unfortunately, this often includes giving away their most private information such as phone numbers, family details, specifics on their whereabouts, where they like to party, their usual hangouts, etc. These people end up compromising on the very basics of their privacy. It's one thing to create a platform to meet new people; it's an entirely different story when you reveal all on a media platform which you cannot control."

Ever-evolving platform

And make no bones about it. Facebook is a platform you never will be able to control. It's not a free service put out there by a charity worker. It's a multi-billion dollar business. "It's imperative to remember that Facebook is an ever-evolving platform. They keep changing their privacy settings, their layouts, the type of information they share with their advertisers… Most people will find it impossible to keep up with every minor change Facebook makes. Creating certain settings at the start of your account does not guarantee those settings will remain when Facebook updates itself," says Kadam.

So why do people risk exposing themselves or having their identity stolen just for a few moments of exhibitionism? "Peer pressure is the main reason people make fatal mistakes on Facebook," says Kadam. "The point of having Facebook is so that people can see what you're up to, right? It's a form of exhibitionism. I know of people who say they have 100 friends, and when they see other friends who have over 300, they feel under pressure to match up to them in the popularity stakes. As a result, people start accepting requests from just about anyone. Or people think that if their status was more interesting, more people would want to get to know them, and they keep their wall open to everyone to view and write outrageous stuff just to grab attention. People also end up adding friends of friends, even if they don't know them personally. But think about it. If you've never met someone, how do you know what their motives are? Why do they want you on their list of friends?" questions Kadam.

"Be very careful who you befriend on Facebook," warns Kadam.

Top tips: Facebook Dos

1. Be wary of unusual messages or requests. Contaminated URLs are a key component of the cybercriminal's artillery. Even if you don't click on anything, just visiting a website can infect your computer.

2. Invest in security software.

3. Use free tools such as Norton Safe Web For Facebook to scan current Facebook news feeds.

4. Tell your friends to message you instead of posting stuff onto your wall.

5. Use Facebook's "report links" feature to let the company know about anything suspicious or inappropriate

6. Use the privacy and security setting on the site. Don't keep your wall and albums open for the world to see.

7. Create groups for family, friends, colleagues, etc and then select individual settings for which group of people get to see what. That way, your private holiday photos will still be available to your family and friends, but never to your colleagues.

 

Facebook Don'ts

1. Never give away your location through location-based apps such as 4Square

2. Set strong passwords containing letters, numbers and special characters

3. Never repeat passwords for more than one account

4. Never use the e-mail address you use for your bank statements, financial or personal transaction as your Facebook log-in e-mail.

5. Steer clear of creating patterns. Don't reveal what time you leave home, where you go for coffee, where you work, when you get home.

6. Don't post stuff on Facebook that could get you in trouble with a current or prospective employer/spouse

6 hundred thousand is the number of times facebook is attacked by hackers every day.