Oversharing on Facebook Could Compromise Online Security

January 2nd 2016

Taylor Bell

We often don't think twice when it comes to sharing information on social media. We all post simple facts about ourselves — a one-year wedding anniversary, a birthday, a pet's name, a hometown. But by doing so, we may be putting ourselves in harm's way, according to Adam Levin, the author of "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself In A World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves."


In a video for Business Insider, Levin explained that when people over share their day-to-day lives, they are unknowingly giving out valuable information.

"People love to talk about where they're born, their first street that they grew up on, their favorite color, their favorite band, their dog's name, and they don't realize that this information often times is part of security questions," he said.

You know, it's those questions that are supposed to confirm your identity and recover your personal password to online accounts in the event that you forget one. Some of the most common questions include: "Where were you born?" "What is your favorite food?" "What is your mother's maiden name?" or "What is your father's middle name?" And though we would never think to directly share the answers to security questions with someone, hackers may be able to figure out the answers through our social media profiles.

Students on Laptops

Related: How to Limit the Flow of Information to Internet Companies

In fact, a Google study found that 16 percent of the answers to most security questions are listed on social media accounts.

Moreover, "even if users keep data private on social networks, interference attacks enable approximating sensitive information from a user's friend," according to the study.

Researchers also found that friends, partners, and even acquaintances could guess the answers to 17 percent of security questions within five of fewer tries.

Related: You're Probably Censoring Yourself Online More than You Thought. Here's Why.

Why is it so easy? Because people tend to choose security questions that have easy-to-remember answers — a category of information that is often obvious to others. For example, for U.S.-English speakers, the question "What is your Father's middle name?" had a success rate of 76 percent whereas the potentially safer question "What is your frequent flyer number?" had a success rate of 9 percent.

There's more to worry about than identity theft.

Over sharing information can also invite kidnappers and other dangerous people into your life. Levin explains:

"When you take a picture and you don't realize that your home address is somewhere in the picture, you take a picture of your new car, you take a picture of your newest piece of art, you take a picture of your newest electronic and you're very excited about it and you want to share it with the world but what you don't realize is, is that if it's geo-tagged, you just had the potential of sharing that with people that you really don't want to share it with that will then get even more interested in you."

See the full video below: