Online Peril: Avoid "Status Jacking"

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“Status jacking” -- or the act of literally hijacking someone’s Facebook page and posting random status updates -- is such a common occurrence that it has even garnered a mention in the Urban Dictionary.

While browsing Facebook, for example, you may have stumbled upon bizarre posts from a friend, which range from harmless updates to more malicious content written by hackers who have hijacked an account.

In a recent article, we cited an MSNBC story from last year about a Microsoft employee whose Facebook account was hacked by thieves. Posting alarming updates about how the victim had been robbed overseas, they urged his friends to send money, some of whom did.

As Time magazine reported in May 2009, online scams have evolved from emails to social-networking sites where unsuspecting users who may be otherwise cautious about clicking on suspicious links in emails may not practice the same caution when browsing Facebook.

In more recent news, the rise of denial-of-service attacks has temporarily crippled various corporate websites. As AOL News reports, as a response to MasterCard’s decision to withdraw its services from controversial WikiLeaks, hackers attacked the company's website.

Hacking dangers
A number of sites have had their share of hacking problems. This October, for example, the Atlantic Wire and other news sources also reported that a web-developer had designed a program called Firesheep, specifically designed to instruct users on how to hack others’ Facebook accounts.

How to prevent status jacking
Though status jacking and hacking social-networking accounts may qualify as sport for some, they pose great dangers for the victims whose accounts have been hacked.

According to the online reputation-management firm ReputationDefender, there are two types of status jacking: either onsite or remote. Onsite jacking is usually motivated by people you know and who have access to your computer. An easy way to prevent this is to log out of your account when you are away from the computer and to continuously change your password.

Remote jacking is more dangerous because as ReputationDefender explains, it’s generally the handiwork of malicious hackers who illegally gain access to your account information via phishing and other scams.

There are steps you can take to guard against status jacking, the most important of which is to avoid using public computers -- such as those at Internet cafes and libraries. These may not be equipped with tight computer security and are easily accessible by scores of users.

On sites such as Facebook, it’s best to keep your profile visible only to those on your friends’ list. Users sometimes make the mistake of “friending” hundreds – sometimes thousands -- of random people in order to bulk up their friends’ list, but to protect your privacy and ensure your account remains safe, only befriend people you actually know. In addition, it’s best to keep your profile private by adjusting the proper privacy settings.

Clicking on suspicious links could prove fatal for your online safety. In the digital era where phishing and pharming scams are rampant, exercising caution when encountering an unknown link or website is key. That legitimate-looking email from your financial institution could well be the handiwork of a hacker who is looking to gain access to your credit card or banking information. Today, suspicious-looking links are also scattered on social-networking sites. Before clicking on that link posted on your friend’s status update, make sure the post appears legitimate, and be wary of downloadable applications.

The consequences
Though in this day and age our privacy may be a lost cause, guarding your online reputation and protecting against malicious online predators and hackers is still a concern.

A September Agence-France Presse story, for example, reported that approximately 57,000 scam websites are created every week -- a staggering number that should serve as a red flag to anyone who spends time online. Social-networking is a phenomenon that is here to stay, but it comes with risks. The protocol of social-networking now requires a dose of stringent security every time you “friend” an acquaintance or click on a link.

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