Understanding the dangers of social networking questionnaires

With people spending more time on Facebook and Twitter, it's important to know what to watch out for. Jack Wallen addresses the social networking behaviors you should avoid at all costs.

Scull on blue digital background. security concepts

Image: iStockphoto/BigNazik

This comes from the office of "I shouldn't have to say this," but in line with the idea of using a weak password, not employing a password manager or two-factor authentication, there are some things that simply bear repeating over and over Especially given our current climate. 

With so many people working from home or not working, social networking usage has skyrocketed. And when people get bored, they'll "people" like never before. We all know what soon follows--shenanigans of the highest order.

SEE: Windows 10 security: A guide for business leaders (TechRepublic Premium)

One pastime that has, once again, popped up on Facebook and Twitter is the ubiquitous questionnaire.

Don't deny it, you've seen them. You might have even been tempted to answer the questions:

  • Was your last relationship a mistake?

  • Do you miss your last relationship?

  • Have you ever been depressed?

  • Are you a boy or girl?

  • Are you insecure?

  • What is your relationship status?

  • What did you last eat?

  • Have you played any sports?

  • What is your real name?

  • Do you hate anyone at the moment?

  • Have any pets?

  • Are you scared of spiders?

  • Would you go back in time if you were given the chance?

  • Do you regret anything from your past?

  • What are your plans for this weekend?

  • Do you want to have kids?

  • Did you ever kiss someone whose name starts with an M?

  • Do you have piercings?

There are even questionnaires that get more personal:

  • What's your pet's name?

  • What was the address of your first home?

  • What was your first phone number?

  • What's your favorite color?

  • What's your mothers' maiden name?

  • What's your favorite band?

Starting to sound familiar? They should.

Let me ask one simple question:

Do any of the above questions remind you of security answers you use to gain access to your bank account?

By now you should know exactly where I'm going with this. In case you're not, however, let me explain.

How hackers gather your personal information

Hackers go to great lengths to get to your data and, for the most part, they're really good at it. They're also really good at getting you to help them out. Hence, these types of questionnaires. It's called social engineering--the manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information--and that name more apropos than ever. You hop onto Facebook or Twitter and answer these questions, probably not knowing that you're handing over the keys to one or more of your data kingdoms: Your bank, your investments, your identity. From those questionnaires, hackers can cobble together much of the information they need to:

  • Guess your passwords

  • Break into your accounts

  • Steal your identity

They might as well ask these three questions:

  • What is your Social Security Number?

  • What is your date of birth?

  • What is your bank account number?

The more information you share, the easier you make it. You might not think that one questionnaire reveals enough about you to be dangerous, but what happens when you've answered three of four rounds of such questions? Enough information about you and that profile starts to coalesce around all the right bits to give some unscrupulous actors everything they need to deep dive into your life.

Avoid sharing your personal information

The truth of the matter is that boredom can breed poor choices. In this case, however, that flavor of boredom could lead to much worse. So when you find yourself tempted to answer any kind of survey or questionnaire on social networking, step away from the keyboard and do something constructive. At all costs, you should avoid putting this kind of personal information onto social networking platforms.

And when in doubt, ask yourself this question: Would answering any of these questions empower someone to steal from me?

If the answer is either a resounding "yes," "maybe," or "Magic 8 Ball is unsure," close that browser tab and play Solitaire, learn a new programming language, install Linux, deploy a Kubernetes cluster, or knit a hat.

Anything but share your personal information.

Literally--anything.

Have a conversation with your cat. Dance it out. Fold origami. Do a puzzle. Plant a garden. Watch paint dry.

Also see