The recent outbreak of phishing emails circulating on Facebook has put the safety and security of social networking websites back in the spotlight.

An outbreak of scam messages circulating on the website only last week left Facebook once again open to criticism as its estimated 60m users were potentially put at risk of identity fraud and malicious software.

It isn’t the first time that Facebook in particular has been used by cyber criminals. Back in December, a new variant of the Koobface virus emerged whilst various forms of the infamous “419 scam” continue to circulate, most of which go largely undetected.

Security scares on social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo are far from new. Critics have long pointed to the privacy issues that are created as users make their personal details, such as addresses and contact numbers, public on a worldwide platform. Others have highlighted potential security flaws in site designs and functionalities which have put user’s PCs at risk. MSNBC once reported that MySpace in particular was a “hotbed” for spyware.

The changing nature of social media and ‘Web 2.0’ is one of the main reasons as to why the security risks are somewhat more prevalent. The sheer volume of activity that takes place on Facebook, Youtube and MySpace means that it’s very difficult for sites to actively monitor every link that is posted and message sent but nevertheless, it is still possible to keep yourself and your PC safe simply by using some tried and trusted security tips.

If you are concerned about privacy, the simple answer is to limit both how much information you divulge about yourself as well as how many people can actually read it. For some reason, many otherwise experienced internet users have a tendency to let their guard down on social networking sites and publish their entire life story. That might look like you are creating a great profile page but ask yourself; do you really want the rest of the world, never mind old school friends, knowing your date of birth, mobile phone number, work email address and entire employment history? Limit the information that you publish on your profile and you limit a would-be fraudster’s interest in you.

Be wary of any messages that you get from unexpected sources. Many spammers and scammers have unfortunately turned to online messaging as a means of bypassing many of the email filters and firewalls that come packaged in many antivirus software packages. The advice is simply to ignore and delete any messages that look even remotely suspicious.

Up-to-date antivirus software is also an essential tool for any Facebook, MySpace of Bebo user. The customisable nature of user profiles means that large parts of such sites don’t meet the technical standards that are required to prevent spyware, worms and trojans from spreading. Even sites such as Youtube are not immune, with some videos now being uploaded despite containing suspicious links.

The overriding message when using any form of online messaging or interaction service is the same; use caution and common sense. Keep your personal information safe, use a strong password to protect your account, never share information with unknown users and make sure that your antivirus software is on full alert for any errant files that may be circulating online.

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