All of these things come with levels of risk. The double whammy that I see is the active content combined with the expanded domain of trust. Theres a cross-site scripting launch pad in that combination if ever there were one.
When Ive written about browser security (as in this comparison of IE vs. Safari vs. Firefox), Ive advocated browser plug-ins like NoScript to give the user a level of control over active content. The problem is that it only provides a partial solution on social networking sites.
NoScript either trusts a domain or it doesnt. Clearly, its not granular enough for all issues.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves? Here are a few tips to consider:
Theyre far from obsolete!
Easier said than done, but at a minimum, I suggest only accepting friend connections from people you directly know. Of course, theyll come with varying levels of technology cluelessness, but its still not a good idea to be friends with anyone who figures out how to send a request to you.
If you have the ability to decide what apps you run and allow within your social networks site, be choosy. Do you really need every cutesy app that comes along?
Wait for a couple days to see what people (and the media) say about an app before deciding to dive in. If the app has problems, often its the early adopters who will find them.
Turn up the privacy controls: Pretty much all the social networking sites allow you to tune your own privacy controls. Turn those up to high. Only allow people in your ring of accepted friends to view your information.
When friends send you links to sites, apps, etc., dont just click on them. Hover your mouse over the link, look at it in its entirety, see what data is going to be passed to it, and then decide. You might even cut-and-paste the URL into another browser and go there separately.
To the extent possible and feasible, dont run other Web apps while youre on your social networking site. Shut down your browser completely, re-start it, do your social networking for the day, and then log out. Theres good and valid reasons for this that Ill cover in a future column, but for now, trust me on this.
So that should arm you with a few tips to consider. Theres still risk involved with using these sites, and there always will be. You need to decide for yourself if the risks are worth whatever value you perceive in using the sites.
As for me, I sure wouldnt give up my Facebook account without a fight.