OIT Security panel offers social networking safety tips

Big Brother is watching, and your little sister, Aunt Sally, too. And probably somewhere around 300 of your closest friends, come to think of it.

Nowadays, the idea of having your name pop up in a Google search isn’t going to send too many people into a panic.

If anything, it will most likely just spark off a contest to see who can get the most results with their name. For most students, the biggest concern they have is making sure Mom doesn’t see that picture from last Friday night.

OIT, together with the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and Office of Student Affairs, is hosting a panel-discussion on the potential risks students unknowingly face when using social media sites.

The panel will take place in the Klaus Atrium between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Oct. 29.

According to Richard Biever, Policy and Compliance Manager for the Information Security division of OIT, sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace pose no threat to students when used correctly, but do have the potential to cause harm if left unprotected.

Biever said, “We recognize that a lot of folks are into social networking—Facebook, Twitter, Flickr—[but] there are a couple of issues here. One is your privacy online, and folks understanding that once they put information out online, it might not be theirs to control anymore.

Another is the whole relationship with employment and the fact that employers are checking all [these sites] now. The third gets into more the criminal aspect; you have to be very careful what you do, because [the same action] in different states could have different repercussions.”

According to Biever, though, these risks can carry heavy implications. He cites the recent case of a Tennessee woman convicted of violating a restraining order for sending a Poke via Facebook. With laws always changing, it’s incredibly important that students exercise a bit of common sense online.

That’s not to say that the other two aren’t important, though. Dale Meyers, Systems Support Specialist at OIT and one of the panelists for the event, says that the privacy implications of social networking deserve more attention than most are giving them.

Meyers said, “There really is no way of avoiding privacy issues these days, but [you can protect yourself] by taking steps to look at all the settings available, and making sure that your computer is completely up to date, has active and up-to-date antivirus software, and has secure passwords.”

He says the same attitude should be taken towards any and all information posted online. No homeowners would post a sign in their front yard, declaring that a family vacation will result in the home being left unwatched for a week, yet Meyers says this is exactly what many are doing on social networks.

Meyers said, “Posting status updates that reveal your location are, I think, questionable…if you have the proper settings, I don’t think someone is going to go burgle your house. But, if you’ve got a wide-open profile, then, yes, you’ve definitely got a problem.”

Something that could be equally as costly is the possibility of employers discovering unflattering photos or information about potential hires. Meyers says that this, too, can be avoided easily enough, if users just took the time to adjust a few preferences.

Meyers said, “With employers also. We’ve seen a lot of talk about potential employers looking at Facebook, but, again, with the proper settings, you can keep eyes from seeing those things…It’s just not a glorious process, and most just don’t want to go in there to modify those settings…. There’s nothing to prevent employers from viewing the information, collecting the information, and keeping the information on record…once you’ve given that person that knowledge, it affects the entire interview process. While they can’t necessarily grade you on that on paper, in their mind, they’re already assessing you before they’ve even gone through the process of checking your true candidacy.”

Biever says that Tech frequently gets requests from former students, asking that they take down old sites of theirs with embarrassing photos or content.

Mustaque Ahamad, director of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center, agrees that it’s important for students to keep track of who has access to what information to prevent any access to unwanted information. s

Ahamad said, “Once info is out, it’s out, and there’s no way to get it back.”

Bievers points out that, despite tending to be more tech savvy, having grown up with the Internet, younger people are less bothered by having large amounts of personal information available online.

Ahamad agrees, and says that students aside from being okay with information available, the current generation actually further the availability.

Ahamad said, “I think younger people are more eager to share more information about themselves and their friends than previous generations.”

Despite the risks, both Meyers and Biever agree that social networks are incredibly useful tools, and don’t want to scare people off from them.

Meyers said, “There’s a lot of good in these social networks, [and] I don’t want to discourage people from using them, because they’ve got a really good foundation, and do add a great aspect of networking with colleagues that we’ve never had before.”

Ahamad said, “I think we need to do our part to stay safe in cyberspace the same way we exercise caution in the real world.

We need to keep in mind that there are very serious threats out there. Use caution and be smart about it. In the online world, everything may not be what it appears.”

Biever offers the same advice.

Biever said, “There’s a saying in the security world: Trust but verify. It’s the same situation with social networks.”

Six panelists are lined up for the event, representing several different ways of approaching the issue. Shelley Hildebrand, senior attorney for Tech, will represent the legal aspects of social media, and the risks and liabilities thereof.

From the professional viewpoint, Paul Judge of Purewire and Chris Rouland of Endgame Systems will be giving the industry perspective.

As mentioned before, Meyers of OIT will be at the discussion, and Ralph Mobley, Director of Career Services, and Kapil Singh, a Ph.D. student in the College of Computing, will also be representing Tech.