By Aili Arnell
Senior Morgan Mewhinney logged onto her computer after school and was shocked and disturbed to discover that her Facebook account had been hacked.
Junior Michelle Freeman said she also had a similar issue. “I logged on one day to see that ‘I’ had written on all of my friend’s walls in alphabetical order, but in reality I didn’t. The hacker posted stuff on my friends’ walls.”
Recently, several Facebook accounts on this school’s network were hacked. What looks like a harmless prank could actually result in something more severe and detrimental. These social networking websites allow students not only to post their relationship status and favorite music, but also their addresses, cell phone numbers and previous employers–information that could be used to create a credit account in their names. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission, teenagers (up to age 29) are the number one target for identity thieves.
Wendy Walker, lead computer technician at this school, said, “The weakest part of keeping personal information secret is the user themselves. Most of the time you don’t even need to hack to gather information on someone. Profiles with open privacies allow others to go from one friend to another to another. You can piece together wall entries and tagged photos on one page to another page, putting together a timeline of your life and finding out information about you that you might not want to share to future employers, colleges, parents or others. It’s like reading a collaborative personal diary of the day to day events of someone’s life.
“I think it is possible that hacked Facebook accounts could lead to something more serious. The internet has become another tool in a criminal’s tool kit.”
Mewhinney said, “It’s really scary. I didn’t think anyone would figure out my information. They could have done something with my account information or my personal information.” The hacker could have accessed Mewhinney’s e-mail address, phone number, address and possibly her credit card number.
To be safe Walker said, “Don’t use your last name on your account. Use a first name and middle name or a nickname. Use Facebook privacy settings; don’t accept someone into your friends list unless you know them face to face.”
For example, many students here have friended a Facebook account on this school’s network named Fred Yao. However, that name could not be found in the school’s database.
“If you receive a friend’s request from someone that you don’t know but see that you have mutual friends in common, I think that you can add them to your friends list but give them more restrictions on what they can see and do. Always keep your passwords secret, complex and change them often. Do not use the same password for every website, email account and computer login. If you feel that you might have gone to a site, and you think that your password has been compromised, change your password right away. Teens are a common target because it is usually their peers doing the attacks,” Walker said.
Mewhinney and Freeman both agreed that teens are just more naive. Freeman said, “We just think that nothing like that will ever happen to us, but in reality it does, and we need to be more careful.”
Mewhinney admittedly said, “My friends did have my password. I would suggest to people to keep your information hidden from other people. Make it challenging with numbers and letters. Don’t tell anyone your password either. I made that mistake.”
Although it may not affect you now, identity theft can harm you in the future. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, victims can spend an average 600 hours over years repairing damage done by identity theft. As a result, Walker said that it is important to take precautions now before it is too late.