How to Avoid the Cyber Security Risks that Affect Social Media

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Social media has become the cornerstone of many businesses' marketing strategies. But with it come a number of cybersecurity risks, which anyone running social campaigns needs to understand before they end up in too deep.

Social media has changed the dynamic for business owners. From small businesses to large corporations, social media platforms allow companies to engage directly with their customers, foster brand awareness, and turn followers into loyal consumers. It really has leveled the playing field, and now even a solopreneur can build a strong brand with a bit of time and know-how on social media.

But, as with any digital frontier, security threats are a challenge, and social media sites offer their own set of challenges.

To this end, understanding the social media threats is essential. Not only to maintain the integrity of your brand or company's online presence but also to protect sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

We're going to look at some of the common social media cyber security threats, how they can affect your business, and what to do if you've been impacted by any of them.

What are the three main cybersecurity risks with social media?

With social media accounts, there are three main forms of cyber threats that can occur. While these fall under one main heading, they can result in additional problems and challenges if not fixed in time.


1. Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering is a manipulative tactic that’s designed to exploit human psychology to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. This can include logging into systems, online accounts, banking details, or accessing data. Cybercriminals often target employees or account owners, tricking them into divulging confidential information or granting access to restricted resources.

This can especially be the case for businesses that mix social media for personal and professional purposes or for social media accounts that are managed externally or by a large team.

Common social engineering attacks include:

Phishing: Posing as a trustworthy entity to solicit sensitive data via email or messaging apps. Baiting: Enticing victims with offers of free goods or services, tricking them into clicking malicious links or opening malware-infected files. Pretexting: Impersonating someone else to gain the victim's trust, collecting personal and financial information through a series of seemingly innocent interactions.

A clever example of pretexting and social engineering is when hackers pay attention to a specific company and track when a CEO is out of town or away on vacation. They might spot this when they post on social media or even pay attention to company announcements when someone senior is visiting a trade show or conference.

The hacker then approaches someone within the company using an email that looks similar to the genuine address and demands payment is sent urgently to a new bank account. Of course, this is a scam - but if done correctly by the hacker, this can be hugely damaging. Some businesses lose hundreds of millions thanks to these scams, which are also referred to as spear phishing.

2. Data Leaks and Privacy Breaches

With millions of active users on social media platforms, the risk of inadvertently leaking sensitive company information or customer data is significant.

Insider threats, such as disgruntled or careless employees, are also a significant concern that can quickly snowball and cause damage beyond the initial data breach. It just takes a single lapse in concentration for someone to accidentally share crucial information - and yes, this does happen a lot.

Privacy breaches can lead to reputational damage, legal repercussions, and financial loss. And yes, this does affect thousands of businesses a year, some of which end up losing huge amounts of money.

In fact, in November 2023 alone, there were 470 known data breaches, resulting in more than 419 million records being accessed. In total, 2023 saw more than 6 billion records accessed via scammers. Shocking, right?

3. Account Hijacking

Cybercriminals can gain unauthorized access to company social media accounts, either through stolen login credentials or by exploiting security vulnerabilities in the platform.

A hijacked account can be used to spread misinformation, damage the company's reputation, or conduct illicit activities in the company's name.

A knock-on of account hijacking can be that your account gets shadowbanned or even blocked and removed in the worst-case scenario.

Read more about hacking and social engineering.

How does social engineering happen on social media?

Social engineering is usually a mid to long-term strategy that is used for gaining access to confidential data or private information.

It leverages some interesting aspects of human psychology to gain trust or exploit :

  1. Gathering Information: Cybercriminals conduct research on their target, collecting personal and professional details from the target's social media profiles, online presence, and public records.
  2. Establishing Trust: Attackers might create fake social media profiles, posing as acquaintances, businesses, or authority figures. They interact with the target to build rapport and develop a trusting relationship.
  3. Exploiting Trust: Once trust is established, cybercriminals manipulate the target into divulging sensitive information, performing compromising actions, or providing access to restricted resources.
  4. Executing the Attack: With the necessary information in hand, the attackers breach the target's security measures, either for financial gain or other malicious purposes.

How does phishing happen on social media?

Phishing scams often form part of a bigger cyber security threat and usually also result in additional problems such as hacking, data breaches, and more.

On social media, a phishing attack will usually follow a similar pattern. The attacker:

  1. Creates a fake profile: The scammer establishes a convincing social media profile, often impersonating reputable companies or individuals.
  2. Connects with potential victims: Targets are contacted through friend requests, direct messages, or even public comments on their posts.
  3. Sends deceptive messages: The attacker messages the target with a convincing narrative (e.g., account suspension, password reset, or prize notification). The message will urge the victim to follow a malicious link or provide sensitive information.

If the victim falls for the phishing attack, they may inadvertently disclose login credentials, financial details, or other sensitive data, leaving them vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, and other illegal activities.

What is shadowbanning?

If you’ve invested in your Instagram or TikTok, shadowbanning is probably the most damaging result of a social media hack that you could experience, aside from your account being closed down.

Shadowbanning refers to the practice of limiting a user's visibility on a platform without their knowledge. Almost like being silenced or muted, a shadowbanned account might experience a significant decrease in engagement, as their content will not appear in searches, newsfeeds, or hashtag lists.

While shadowbanning might not fall under the banner of a cyber threat for most, it can result from excessive bot activity on an account or the result of an account being compromised.

Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook apply shadowbanning algorithms to ensure that content aligns with their community guidelines.

Saying that it’s a bit tricky as the main platforms don’t readily admit the existence of shadowbanning, even though it’s definitely a thing.

And so, the opaque nature of social media algorithms poses a challenge for businesses operating on social media. But being shadowbanned can actually be a symptom of a bigger problem that might be a result of either your own activity or a hack…

How do accounts get shadowbanned?

Accounts may get shadowbanned due to various reasons, including:

  • Violating platform-specific community guidelines
  • Engaging in spam or posting excessive amounts of content
  • Using banned or flagged hashtags
  • Exhibiting automated or bot-like activity
  • Receiving a substantial number of user complaints or reports

While keeping your social media apps clean and safe might sound simple, hackers can gain access to your social media channels and use them for a variety of malicious purposes.

These might be spamming people with messages, being used to follow other spam accounts (a popular way to artificially inflate followers and engagement), and even other activities such as the aforementioned social engineering or phishing.

Of course, this can result in your account being shadowbanned without you even doing anything wrong.

If you do suspect that you have been impacted by shadowbanning, you can check using the Spikerz shadow ban calculator to check your Instagram or TikTok accounts.

How can you protect your business from social media cyber fraud?

Taking social media cyber security seriously isn’t a luxury we can afford to take these days. Especially if you handle other people's data or process payments on your website or social media pages.

So, when it comes to mitigating social media cyber fraud and protecting your company's digital assets, these are the best practices:

  1. Educate Employees: Raise awareness of cybersecurity risks and provide training on identifying and handling social engineering attempts, phishing schemes, and malicious content.
  2. Implement Strong Password Practices: Encourage the use of unique and complex passwords for social media accounts and use multi-factor authentication where available.
  3. Monitor and Limit Access: Restrict social media account access to only the necessary personnel and regularly review permissions. Implement processes for revoking access upon employee termination.
  4. Secure Company Devices: Keep company computers and devices up-to-date with the latest security patches, antivirus software, and firewall protection.
  5. Establish Social Media Usage Policies: Create comprehensive guidelines outlining acceptable practices for employees using company social media accounts and debating online conduct, content sharing, and privacy settings.
  6. Be Vigilant in Connections: Authenticate the legitimacy of new followers and friend requests, and carefully review message content before engaging with unknown senders.
  7. Regularly Monitor Your Online Presence: Actively watch your company's social media presence, account activity, and engagement metrics. Be aware of any suspicious changes that may indicate compromised accounts or shadowbanning.

Summing up

Social media cyber security doesn’t just affect your Instagram or TikTok accounts… It has a bigger and broader impact that can snowball and affect your business in more ways than you might first think.

From data loss or account hacking to the loss of your hard work building up social media accounts - being aware of the threats is the first step in preventing falling victim to cyber crimes.

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