Social networking site users failing on privacy says Webroot

However, the Webroot study also revealed that 81% of users allow anyone who is part of their network to view their recent activities, while more than a quarter have not changed their profile's default privacy settings.

Commenting on the results, Jeff Horne, Webroot's director of threat research, said that a perfect storm is developing between the number of people flocking to social networks and the new, increasingly sophisticated malware attacks that criminals are launching to prey on the personal data users are sharing.

Horne highlighted the Koobface virus as being malware that is targeted at social networking users and has more than 100 variations that attempt to extract credit card details.

The study – Webroot's second annual research into social networking security – surveyed more than 1100 members of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and other popular social networking sites.

The good news is that more users seem to be practicing certain safe behaviours, including blocking their profiles from being visible through public search engines – a 37% increase over last year.

Over the last 12 months, Webroot says that Facebook membership grew to more than 400 million active users – a 229% jump over the previous year.

Delving into the report reveals some interesting statistics, Infosecurity notes, most of which suggest that social networking users are sharing information that could help hackers breach their profiles, their wallets and possibly their homes.

61%, for example, include their birthday in their profiles, while 52% include their home town and 17% even include their mobile phone number.

The bottom line to the report is that privacy settings, says Webroot, continue to be under-used, because, although 73% were aware of Facebook's privacy changes dating from last December, 42% have not changed their settings since the privacy updates.

So what can social networking users do?

Horne says that consumers need to better protect themselves by guarding their profiles and setting stricter privacy policies – especially given the growing popularity in location-based social media tools that broadcast where you are.

"It's also important to make sure your computer has an added layer of security to stop attacks before they happen", he said, adding that users should protect themselves by only accepting friend requests, emails and site links from people they know and even then, be selective about what they open.

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