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Balancing digital privacy and connectedness on social media

BY eSentire Threat Intel

January 31, 2018 | 5 MINS READ


Cyber Risk

Cybersecurity Strategy

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The use of social media has become prolific for both private users and organizations. Threat actors have not been oblivious to this growth and are actively targeting social media users. In fact, approximately 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised every day.[1]

The wide spread adoption and multifaceted uses of social media have made avoiding it altogether impractical. This leaves us asking the question: How do you make use of the connectivity provided by social media sites while maintaining your security and digital privacy? To answer this question, we must first start with which threats are posed through social media to both individual users and organizations.

Personal Risk

Many of the tactics threat actors employ over other mediums have been restructured to work for social media sites. The same phishing attempts that everyone is familiar with over email also occur on social media. Threat actors can be significantly more convincing on social media platforms, as they may have fully built profiles with pictures and hundreds of connections. This background allows the threat actor to be more believable than a simple email from an unknown source.

One of the most significant issues posed by social media use is the amount of personal data that is included across multiple accounts. Linking a person to their various social media accounts is generally a simple task and each account exposes unique facts about the user. Threat actors can compile this information and apply it in various malicious ways including as spear phishing—the act of creating a very targeted and unique phishing message—or doxing, which is the act of publicly releasing large amounts of personal information to cause reputation damage or just to reduce a person’s privacy.

These problems are compounded by the use of automated social media monitoring services and tools. These services are generally applied to find area specific trends on social media for marketing purposes but can also be used by a threat actor to monitor specific users and compile their activity simultaneously across multiple platforms. These services and tools have helped threat actors automate the activity that otherwise would have been slow manual work.

Risks to Organizations

Not that long ago, large organizations banned the use of social media on their networks to avoid the associated risks. This tactic is generally no longer a practical solution however, as many parts of a business either rely on or incorporate social media use.

One security risk posed to organizations by social media use could occur if a non-work related social media account is infiltrated by an attacker. If the employee has reused their social media password for their work-related accounts, it may allow the attacker to pivot from the individual user and target the company. The infiltration of an employee’s social media account would also expose any work related activity discussed over the messaging systems and could result in the leak of sensitive information.


LinkedIn can be exploited in unique ways by threat actors due to its focus on business networking and job hunting. Users will often make their work email publicly available on LinkedIn for networking purposes; unfortunately, this can then be used by threat actors to create a list of organisation specific targets for phishing campaigns. Users of LinkedIn may also list the programs and technology they use in their work space. Publicly disclosing this information gives threat actors more background information for targeted attacks, allowing the threat actor to target vulnerabilities in software that they now know is being used in the organization.


There have been numerous cases of Twitter accounts being exploited to cause damage to large organizations. In some cases this damage is from hacked accounts leaking messages and privileged information, in other cases it is reputational damaged caused by the attacker sending inappropriate or misleading tweets via the hacked account. This was the case in 2017 when the official McDonalds twitter account was compromised and used to air the attacker’s political views.[2]

Steps to Maintain Privacy and Security

There are various steps that users can take to maintain their privacy and security while still enjoying the connectedness of social media platforms. The first step is to make use of the security measures provided by the social media sources themselves. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all offer robust security settings that help minimize the risks associated with using social media.

Figure 1 - LinkedIn

Figure one shows the LinkedIn options for limiting what information is publicly viewable.[3] If possible, these should be limited so only trusted connections can find this information.

In order to prevent the unwanted collection of location information, Twitter allows users to remove their location from past and future tweets and restrict which users are able to see the tweets (Figure 2).[4] Restricting what information can be shared and who it can be shared with greatly reduces the risk of information being used in unitended ways.

Figure 2 - Twitter

All major social media platforms also offer users the option of reporting suspicious behavior and messages. If you suspect that a message or request is from a threat actor, take the extra second to report the activity before deleting it. This simple step helps to identify and remove malicious activity, potentially reducing future attacks.

Figure 3 - Twitter

Multi-factor authentication is offered by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (Figure 3).[5] Having to authenticate an account with more than just a password greatly increases the difficulty for attackers to breach the account. In most circumstances attackers are looking for the easiest accounts to break into and aren’t willing to expend large amounts of resources on a specific account, with the exception of targeted campaigns.

Having a unique password for all accounts is a simple but essential step in maintaining security. Failing to include a unique password each account can allow a threat actor to pivot between social media, banking, email and work related accounts, changing a small breach into something much larger. Password managing services, such as KeePass, can be employed to store multiple complex passwords easily and securely.

One of the most important steps in maintaining privacy on social media is to never add any person that that you don’t know, even if they have a large number of mutual contacts. Although this seems straightforward, threat actors can create very convincing profiles with a large numbers of contacts, fake education information and fake employment information, making them difficult to identify. Even messages from trusted contacts should be viewed skeptically for any red flags like strange links or documents and uncharacteristic language, poor grammar or spelling. In these cases, the best option is to reach out to the sender with a phone call to verify that they did in fact send the message and are not compromised.

eSentire Threat Intel
eSentire Threat Intel Threat Intelligence Research Group

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