Social media presents inevitable risks – how safe are you?

14H03242_RF_130x130Our business and social lives have become closely intertwined. With new platforms, applications and technologies being discovered almost on a daily basis, social networks are being embraced rapidly by individuals and corporations. While some companies use internet for businesses (e-commerce), others use social media channels as part of their branding strategies to build a resolute connect with their stakeholders. These include clients, shareholders, employees and suppliers.

But here is the catch – while social media plays a crucial role in business, it can also lead to fraud. Let’s take the case of the 1995 movie, The Net, where the protagonist was a victim of identity theft and her entire (online) existence was wiped away. This included her credit cards, social security number etc. In today’s context, when people are sharing their personal information such as birthday, address, current location and frequently visited places (restaurants or workplace) openly through third-party applications; the task becomes even easier.

In corporate work environments, there are enough firewalls and security mechanisms in place to safeguard information residing in devices. However, accessing your work emails remotely or through your home computer or laptop can give rise to concerns. Let’s consider two scenarios:

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  • Your personal device tends to be accessed by other people, including members of the family or friends. While technology-savvy individuals will stay guarded and avoid clicking links shared by unknown, digital immigrants may not take any precautions. They could inadvertently download a virus, malware or keylogger that could compromise information resting in the system. On the other hand, youngsters who are digital natives, but are using social platforms purely as a means to network and share information could also fall prey to such risks. The inclination to be present and active on new social channels is so high that it could lead to the possibility of bugs getting into the system.
  • Another way by which data can be compromised is with the use of unsecured Wi-Fi. Many public places tend to offer free Wi-Fi to their patrons, and there are multiple cases when you do not require a password to connect. In such a case, it is not difficult for any spyware to gain access to the device when you log in to social media and compromise the device.

In both these scenarios, social media, in some ways, unintentionally leads to data breach or compromise, even though the individual may have assumed caution. There are also discussions on the ambiguity of what constitutes online fraud through social media. So does this mean that there has to be some sort of financial loss for it to qualify as a fraud? Not necessarily.

Companies need to take a number of proactive and reactive steps to protect themselves from social media risks. These range from installing firewalls, anti-virus software, encryption and blocking unsecure websites and other technology upgrades to mitigate the possibility of any breach. They should also have mandatory training and a well-communicated social media policy. The most important aspect at an individual level is education – especially in the case of digital immigrants. Social media presents an agreeably exhilarating experience but you have to remember to not discount its dangers.

Follow @EY_India and track #EYForensic for regular updates


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