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Social networking can be a fun and useful tool that connects people and allows them to share information instantly with friends all over the world. At the same time, over-sharing of personal information can often lead to security risks, especially for high-profile individuals and families. As Forbes recently reported, Alexa Dell, the daughter of billionaire computer magnate Michael Dell, recently had her Twitter account shut down after the family’s security team realized that she was sharing very personal, detailed information about the location of family vacations and other events. In one example, Alexa shared the date, time, and location of her graduation dinner, which her parents would be attending, two weeks before the actual dinner. Details like GPS location could allow malicious individuals to track Alexa and/or other members of her family in an attempt to kidnap them and make ransom demands. Sharing details like the time and location of events and trips on social networking sites — a seemingly innocent activity on the surface — can make people and their families vulnerable to security risks, especially high net worth individuals and families that are already more likely to be targeted.
Not only minors, but even young adults will never understand the encompassing nature of real security. It takes education, patience and more education. The best education is time spent reviewing their actual online behavior (of all types) and informing them of the real risks associated with certain behaviors. Young people simply lack the life experience to make the proper behavioral choices. I like to describe it as confusing their knowledge of how to use technology with the maturity of judgment as to how it should be used. The difference can literally be life and death.
As a security professional, I’e found that the best way of alerting young people to the risks they unknowingly expose themselves to is to tell them stories of actual events, not just theoretical risks. They commonly live in a world of “it will only happen to others.” A parallel requirement is to educate the parents/household/whomever of those risks, so they are equipped, if necessary, to enforce the rules that as adults and head of household only they can truly enact and enforce. Guidepost and others like us cannot become in loco parentis. Families can look to us for education and advice, but not enforcement.
Just like young Ms. Dell thought that tweeting her friends would be safe because she never imagined unknown followers or re-tweeting as risks, I have known numerous high school and younger girls who thought sending a sexually provocative photo to their one-and-only was safe. Of course, if it actually were safe, I never would have met them. Young people must be informed of the risks involved with using new technology for sharing personal information.
Kenneth Citarella is senior managing director for the Investigations and Cyber Forensics practice at Guidepost Solutions LLC. He has more than 30 years of experience investigating and prosecuting white collar crime and computer crime.