Half of social networkers post risky information, study finds

Consumer Reports survey finds social network use in U.S. doubled over the past year

More than half of all users of social networks in the U.S. are posting information that could put them at risk of being targeted by cybercriminals, according to a Consumer Reports study.

The magazine, which released its State of the Net survey today, noted that 52% of adults who use social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, have posted personal information like their full birth dates and other revealing facts that criminals could use to victimize them.

Consumer Reports, which publishes product reviews and ratings, also noted that the number of U.S. households that use social networks has doubled in the past year.

"Many people use social networking sites to share personal information and photos with their friends quickly and easily," said Jeff Fox, technology editor at Consumer Reports, in a statement. "However there are serious risks involved, which can be lessened by using privacy controls offered by the sites."

Of 2,000 U.S. residents that Consumer Reports surveyed in January, 9% said they had experienced some kind of trouble -- such as malware infections, scams, identity theft or harassment -- as a result of their presence on a social network.

They study found that people who post personal information, such as their full birth dates, photos and names of children, home addresses, and times they'll be away from home, put themselves at the most risk of being victimized.

Consumer Reports said the results of the survey indicate that 42% of the people on Facebook post their full birth dates, 16% post their children's names, 63% post photos of themselves and 7% reveal their home addresses.

The magazine offered social network users several tips to lessen the chance of being targeted by cybercriminals.

First, don't post a phone number or a full address online. Be vague when posting information about vacations or business trips so criminals won't know when your home will be unoccupied. Also, the magazine suggested, use strong passwords, mixing upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.

Users should not post their children's names, even in photo tags or captions, Consumer Reports added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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