Hackers and corporate security breaches aren't the only threat to your digital privacy. With the amount of personal information we freely share on social media, you could be giving away access to your online accounts. Though you may not think twice about sharing outdated information, like your first car or childhood pet's name, the information trail you leave behind can give anyone enough information to get into your accounts.
The problem is security questions, often used as a secondary method of accessing online accounts. If you've forgotten your password, a website may ask for an answer to a question for confirmation that you are who you say you are. All you have to do is provide the correct answer, and the site will kindly reset your password. And unfortunately, you may be giving the answers to those questions away when you take a silly quiz, respond to a question on Facebook, or jump on the latest social meme.
While these questions are intended to ask about things only you would know, you find the same questions used across many different websites. And once your information is out there — whether because of a hack or because you shared it — hackers may be able to get into many of your online accounts.
There's a good chance you'll recognize a lot of these common security questions:
What is your mother's maiden name?
What was the make and model of your first car?
What street did you grow up on?
What city were you born in?
What was the name of your first pet?
What was your first job?
Who was your best friend in high school?
Who was your first grade teacher?
Where did you meet your current spouse?
And that's easier than you might think. Imagine a Facebook post from an animal shelter, showing an adorable animal photo and asking about your first pet. You might be tempted to reply with a name and a photo, and start chatting with other friendly pet-lovers in the thread. It's just a fun chat with friends (or soon to be friends), right? Except anyone can visit that thread and find out your name as well as the answer to a common security question.
Some of these — like our animal shelter example above — are perfectly innocent. Others, however, are carefully set traps in which malicious individuals are specifically trying to collect data so they can get into your accounts. But whether these posts are innocent or not, they aren't harmless because anyone could see them and harvest your information.
So how can you protect yourself? First off, be careful about what you share online because even information that seems innocuous could help someone steal your accounts or identity. Skip those Facebook quizzes — which we already know can be a big privacy risk — and avoid responding to silly memes. Just don't share personal information, no matter how trivial, publicly.
It's also a good idea to lie when you create security questions. Because it's possible for people to track down the answers to these common security questions, it's best if your answers don't match the answers a hacker might find online. You'll want to keep track of them using a password manager, but it's smart to use one anyway.
Once you know what you're looking for, it's easy to avoid sharing dangerous data (like the name of the first street you lived on). Stay vigilant when you're on social media, and steer clear of anyone who asks you for information that seems suspicious.
[Image credit: woman using Facebook Shutterstock.com]