Here’s a set of guides I’ve put together to help you understand your online security posture and how you might improve it.
Everyone uses Social Media these days and we’re trusting it with more and more of our personally identifiable information (PII).
Our interests, comments, check-ins, likes and the network of friends and family we build-up all contribute to a context-heavy online identity.
If an attacker gains control of your online identity, they can easily:
- Steal all your personal information
- Post content and messages on your behalf to hurt you or your network of friends and family
- Use implicit trust to gain access to other online services
- Impersonate you, abusing the trust you have with your network of friends and family to infiltrate their online identities and networks
In this guide, I’ll focus on the social media platform Facebook and talk about how to review your security settings.
Review your public profile
It’s important to review exactly what information you’ve entered as part of your Facebook Public Profile – as it’s exactly that: Public.
You may have entered something personal, inappropriate, misleading, regrettable or just incorrect without realising it’s being broadcast to the world. The settings controlling what’s displayed as part of your public profile are separate from Facebook’s general security settings so must be reviewed independently.
To configure your Public Profile, do this:
- Browse to https://www.facebook.com and log in
- Find your mini profile picture and name in the top of the left navigation bar.
- Click on the the 3 vertical dots next to your name
- Click on Edit Profile from the pop-up menu
- Your Edit profile popup window will appear
Examine all photos and read all text and options in this window from top to bottom. Whatever you see here is publicly visible to the whole world.
After making a change, remember to click the Save button that appears.
Edit your About Info
IMPORTANT: Make sure you click on the Edit your About Info link at the bottom of the Edit Profile window.
The About Info section can contain a huge amount of personal information you might want to keep private.
Go down the navigation items on the left and examine each panel of information on the right. Examine everything here. If there’s something you’d rather keep private or don’t want the world to see or know about – such as your mobile phone number or your relationship status, change it here.
Security and privacy settings
Facebook security settings can be accessed via the Facebook. Accessing the Facebook security settings:
- Browse to https://www.facebook.com and log in
- Click on the down arrow ▼ in the top right corner
- Select Settings from the drop down list
There are lots of security-related settings here, so to save you time I’ve use the following colour coding:
[QUICK WIN] = You should address these straight away
[EFFORT] = Require a bit more thought and effort but will definitely improve your security posture
[REVIEW] = Items for you to review. These are mainly about privacy but also cover notifications and alerting.
Security and login
Where you’re logged in [REVIEW]
This is a list of all devices and locations that are currently logged into your Facebook account.
If you have a home PC, a laptop, a smart phone, a tablet etc. you’ll see multiple entries here. Facebook will try and identify the type of device and where geographically it’s logged in from.
Make sure you click on the ▼ See more button to display everything.
Look down the list and if there’s anything there you don’t recognise, click the three dots menu icon on the right and select Not you?. This tells Facebook that you are not responsible for this login and will help Facebook block this connection in the future.
If you’re knowingly using a VPN or routing your traffic via a different country, you’ll see that reflected here.
Seeing anything unexpected here can indicate that your Facebook account has been compromised and someone else is logging into your account without your knowledge. Is this is the case, I would recommend that you immediately do the following:
- Change your Facebook password
- Go back to the Where you’re logged in list and click Log out of all sessions at the bottom.
This will cause every device on the list to be logged out. If they try and log in again, they’ll be prompted to enter your password which you’ve just changed.
Setting up extra security
Get alerts about unrecognised logins [QUICK WIN]
This works hand-in-hand with the Where you’re logged in list (explained above).
Facebook can send you a notification if it sees a login that’s from a previously unknown device, browser or location. This is really important so you can react quickly if your account is compromised.
If this isn’t already On, click the Edit button and make sure notifications are enabled for all alert types. Remember to click Save Changes.
If you’ve just turned something on, you’ll get an alert saying so.
Use two-factor authentication [EFFORT]
You can learn more about the concept of Two Factor Authentication (2FA) by reading my guide here.
TL;DR; In order for a new device or browser to log into your Facebook account, a person will need to know not just your username and password (which might have been leaked) but also have access to your unlocked mobile device and use its code generator app.
If you enable 2FA in Facebook, it requires a minimum of your mobile phone number and a code generator of some sort.
The Facebook smartphone app will serve as a code generator, but if you’re embracing the concept of 2FA to protect your online identity across multiple online services, you should take the option to set up a third-party app as a code generator.
After you’ve read my guide to 2FA, adding Facebook’s QR code to your code generator app will be a breeze.
Choose 3 to 5 friends to contact if you are locked out [REVIEW]
Your Facebook account can be locked-out if someone is trying to brute-force your login credentials or someone has reported your account behaving maliciously – usually after it’s been compromised.
You can choose a few trusted Facebook contacts to help you out if your account becomes locked-out. They will be contacted by Facebook to help your identity to prove you are who you say you are.
Who can see your future posts [QUICK WIN]
Unless you are a public figure and want everyone to know exactly what you had for lunch or where you went last night and with whom, I would strongly recommend making sure only your Friends can see your future posts.
This setting usually defaults to Friends, but can switch if you’ve recently changed the visibility of a post to Public.
If this is set to anything other than Friends, click the Edit button, change to Friends then click Close. This setting doesn’t have a Save Changes button and takes effect immediately.
Limit the audience of old posts on your timeline [QUICK WIN]
If you’ve posted stuff in the past that you might have thought was a good idea to make Public, or may have accidentally made Public, you can fix this and set everything you’ve done back to Friends.
Click Limit Past Posts then click the Limit Past Posts button that appears below, then click the Limit Past Posts button in the window that appears, then click Close. The change will take effect immediately.
How people can find and contact you
Who can see your friends list? [REVIEW]
If you want to stop people you don’t know seeing a list of your Facebook Friends, you can change that here.
Click Edit, then change the visibility button to Friends. The change takes effect immediately.
If you’re happy for people you don’t know to see your list of Facebook friends, leave it as Public.
Who can look you up using the email address you provided? [REVIEW]
If you want to prevent people you don’t know from finding your Facebook Profile via your email address, you can change that here.
Click Edit, then change the visibility button to either Friends or Friends of friends. The change takes effect immediately.
If you’re happy for people you don’t know to find you by your email address, leave it as Everyone.
Who can look you up using the phone number you provided? [REVIEW]
If you want to prevent people you don’t know from finding your Facebook Profile via your mobile phone number, you can change that here.
Click Edit, then change the visibility button to either Friends or Friends of friends. The change takes effect immediately.
If you’re happy for people you don’t know to find you by your mobile phone number, leave it as Everyone.
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? [REVIEW]
You can stop your Facebook Profile page from appearing in search engine results by changing this option.
Click the Edit button and either tick or un-tick Allow search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile, then click Close.
It can take days or weeks for your profile to disappear from search engine results, so don’t expect an immediate effect. If you’re still seeing your profile coming up in search engine results, you’ll need to contact the search engine company directly and request your profile to be removed.
Timeline and tagging
Who can post on your timeline? [QUICK WIN]
Who can see what others post on your timeline? [REVIEW]
Who can see posts that you’re tagged in on your timeline? [REVIEW]
When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience of the post if they can’t already see it? [REVIEW]
Review posts that you’re tagged in before the posts appear on your timeline? [REVIEW]
Review what other people see on your timeline [REVIEW]
Review tags that people add to your posts before the tags appear on Facebook? [REVIEW]
Who Can Follow Me [REVIEW]
Public Post Comments [REVIEW]
Public Post Notifications [REVIEW]
Public Profile Info [REVIEW]
Apps and websites
Every time you interact with a Facebook app, you grant it access to one or more elements of your profile. This can include your personal profile i.e. age, sex, religion, address, email etc and your friends list.
Some apps, also demand permissions to post on your behalf.
This page is split into 3 tabs: “Active”, “Expired” and “Removed”.
Apps under “Active” have continued access to your data.
Apps under “Expired” previously had access to your data but their access has now expired.
Apps under “Removed” are those that have had access to your data removed manually by yourself.
For all “Active” apps, you can check exactly what privileges it has by clicking “View and edit”.
If you’re certain you don’t want an “Active” app to access your data any more, tick it’s box and click the “remove” button.
You should perform this simple check regularly – especially if you’re in the habit of completing Facebook quizzes, questionnaires or playing Facebook games.
Apps, Websites and games [QUICK WIN]
Game and app notifications [REVIEW]
What’s wrong with my username and password?
Typical online authentication requires a username and a password – this is something a user has to know.
These can be (and are frequently) written down, shared with other people or leaked from hacked sites to the world by malicious third parties..
Users will often setup the same username and password with multiple online services. This is super-convenient because they only have to remember one set of credentials, but if those credentials get leaked, hackers will have access to all services where that set of credentials have been used.
This could be your mailbox, your social media accounts, online shops, dating sites (!) etc. and once an attacker has access to your mailbox, they can use the “forgot password” function of any website to reset your password and control your account.
To remedy all this, you can add an additional layer of security called Two Factor Authentication (2FA), sometimes called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).
What is Multi Factor Authentication?
This is so-called because it adds an additional factor to the authentication process. In additional to what a user knows (their username and password), it adds the requirements of something a user has.
MFA requires a physical device to deliver you a security “token” to enter alongside your username and password. This is typically a 6 to 8 digit number or sometimes a random text string. Here are some ways a code can be made available to you:
- Via text message (SMS). You’ll be sent a unique code to your mobile phone.
- Via a phone call. You’ll be called and an automated voice will read out a code to you.
- Via an email. You’ll receive a message in your inbox that contains a code.
- Via a hardware token. You’ll have a “fob” that continuously displays an ever-changing code.
- Via a software token. You’ll have an app on your smartphone, tablet or computer which generates a continuously changing code – just like a hardware token.
Who supports MFA?
Not all online services, support MFA… but a growing number do. twofactorauth.org is a really useful site that tries to keep an up-to-date list of services that do offer MFA, and if they don’t, it (rather cheekily) provides a link to the service’s twitter page so you can ask them to.
For sites that support Software Tokens, I’d like to recommend an solution called Authy. This is a free system that has the following benefits:
- It’s cloud-based. This means everything’s stored centrally and backed-up for you in case you lose your device.
- It runs on multiple platforms including desktop, tablet, smartphone and smartwatch. This means you’re not limited to only having a single code-generator.
- It’s password protected and can use the biometric authentication offered by laptops, tablets and smartphones.
- It supports different types of code generators .
- Although it’s a cloud-based service, the code generator works offline.
- It supports three different type of security token including:
- OTP (One-Time Passcode)
- Soft token TOTP (Time-based One-time Passwords)
- Push Authentication
What makes a password weak?
A weak password is one that can be easily guessed or broken.
This might be because it’s made up of public information associated with you. For example:
- You or your family’s dates of birth
- Names of your family members
- Your pet’s names
- Your nickname
- your car
- your favourite football team
Your password might be a known default password.
Many items of computer hardware which connect to the Internet have factory default usernames and passwords. These are often variations of the words admin and password.
Recently installed, but unconfigured software or content management systems will often use a default password which is publicly known and published in online manuals.
So far these are examples of public information being used as passwords.
For passwords made up of secret information, brute-force methods can be used to guess a password.
You might think your password is so easy to remember and type but so obscure, that no-one else would have ever thought of it, but you’re probably wrong.
Here are the top 100 most popular passwords that crop up on the leaked lists:
In 2017, it was estimated that almost 10% of people used at least one of the 100 most popular passwords and almost 3% of people have used 123456 as their password.
These lists are regularly used for brute-forcing passwords, so anything on this this list should be avoided.
You can check whether your password is on one of the leaked lists using this website: https://haveibeenpwned.com/Passwords
The more complex a password is, the more difficult it will be for brute-force methods to succeed.
Password complexity can be improved by doing one or more (or all) of the following:
- Avoid using a single word from a dictionary as your password. This will be found straight away when a list of dictionary words are tried one after another.
- Increase the number of characters in the password. A four character password is much weaker than an eight character password for example.
- Include upper and lower case characters in the password. Don’t just use a single uppercase letter followed by all lowercase letters.
- Include numbers and symbols in the password.
It used to be popular to replace letters with numbers that look like their alphabetic counterparts. For example, replace O (oh) with 0 (zero), L with 1 (one), A with 4, S with 5 etc. to created words like:
Baseball = b455b411 password = pa55w0rd secret = s3cr3t
However, the brute-force algorithms have long been wise to this, so this sort of character replacement is one of the first things they try.
The most secure passwords
The most secure form of password is a long string of random uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols like this:
zKa4zD#5 (8 chars) $f4qX6rxBU&B (12 chars) 1!^B5qUA$t0iU7l% (16 chars)
The disadvantage of these un-guessable context-free, complex passwords, is that they’re almost impossible to remember and as a result are then written-down – which completely defeats their purpose.
Passwords are often found written on Post-it notes and stuck under keyboards, in front or back covers of notebooks or on computer monitors.
Using a Password Manager
I would always recommend the use of long strong complex passwords in conjunction with a Password Manager. A password manager will generate, remember and enter long strong complex passwords for you, so you don’t need to remember them or write them down.
Of course, you’ll still need at least one strong complex memorable password to protect your password manager, so read-on.
Choosing a strong complex memorable password
- Think of 3 or 4 random words. Look around you and get some inspiration. Don’t choose words that can be guessed by someone else or could be associated with you.
- Imagine a silly or weird situation in your mind that can be described using those words. This image is the key to memorising your password.
If you’re forced to use special characters by someone’s password policy:
- Choose where to put your capital letters. Don’t use a capital letter as the first character. Maybe the start of the 2nd and/or 3rd words?
- Can one of your words be a number? Change it to its numeric version.
- Pick one or more symbol characters and put them somewhere in the middle of the password. Don’t use them as the 1st or last characters.
Here’s a fun cartoon from xkcd.com
This is a really popular cartoon, so please don’t use correcthorsebatterystaple as your password as I’m certain its now in every password cracking dictionary 🙂
What is a Password Manager
A Password Manager (PM) is a service or app that stores and enters usernames and passwords for you into online services or mobile apps. A good PM will also generate strong passwords for you and also help you identify weak or compromised passwords.
The core concept is that you have a single strong but memorable Master Password that secures your PM. All the passwords for everything else should be complex and impossible to remember or guess (and often tricky to type). This makes them secure. In theory, the only passwords you ever need to remember is the Master Password of your PM and any passwords that can’t be entered for you by your PM. For example, an online banking site that asks you to enter the 3rd, 4th and 8th characters of your password.
Why should I use a PM?
Read my post titled Stop using the same password everywhere!
Important to understand
- A PM cannot enter a password to unlock your device i.e. desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone.
- A PM will not enter passwords for you or give you access to them unless you’ve logged-in with your Master Password.
- A PM will not generate easily guessable or memorable passwords. The whole point is that the passwords are not memorable or guessable.
- A PM will not force you to use multi-factor-authentication.
- If you forget your Master Password and have not set up any emergency access methods, all your passwords will be inaccessible – and effectively lost.
- If you don’t set up multi-factor-authentication to protect your PM and someone obtains/guesses your Master Password, all your passwords will fall into enemy hands.
There are a few password managers out there and at time of writing, two popular ones are LastPass and 1Password. Both offer their basic features as a free service. They both also offer a paid-for service for more advanced users.
I’ve been using LastPass for many years and this guide continues assuming you’re using the free service offered by LastPass.
I have personally paid for the more advanced services provided by LastPass and have not received any incentives or payments from either of the two PMs mentioned in this post.
These are non-negotiable tenets that must be adhered-to if you are to realise the protection a PM can offer:
You will not use the same PM account for work and personal stuff.
You will disable, clear-out and never use the “password remembering” features of any browser on any of your devices.
You will use your PM as your sole repository for passwords.
You will never write down any passwords ever again.
You will use the password generation feature of your PM whenever you are required to enter a new password.
Ignoring any of these Golden Rules will greatly reduce the security of your passwords and the effectiveness of a PM.
Here’s are the steps you’ll be going through to switch over to using a PM:
- Identify the devices you have that are currently storing passwords for you. These could be desktop computers, laptops, tablets, phones etc.
For each device:
- Install your PM of choice and all available extensions.
- Identify the browser(s) that are remembering passwords for you.
For each browser:
- Disable the password remembering function your browser(s).
- Export the remembered passwords (if possible).
If you can’t export the credentials:
- In a separate browser, log into each site and manually enter the credentials your browser has remembered for you.
- Allow your PM to store these credentials for you.
- Log out of the site and log in again using the credentials offered by your PM.
- Verify the site works with your PM before moving to the next site.
- If you can export the credentials:
- Import the credentials into your PM.
- Go to a few of your most important sites and check that the credentials in your PM work.
- Delete all the remembered credentials from your browser.
- Move onto the next browser.
- Move onto your next device.
Do this straight away
Choose a strong un-guessable password for your Master Password.
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Living with a Password Manager
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Using multiple devices
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Tips & tricks
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Why is this a bad thing?
Using the same password everywhere makes everyone’s life easier. It means you can log into your bank, your online shopping, your mailbox and social media without having to remember dozens of passwords.
However, using the same password on multiple online services is like using the same key to unlock your front door, your car, your suitcase and your safety deposit box.
If someone sees your key and makes a copy of it, they can now unlock everything. They can not only steal whatever you’re protecting with that key (money, personal information etc), but they can also impersonate you to steal your friends and family’s money and personal information buy abusing their trust in you.
My password is secret, so no-one will ever know it
You might think your password is secure because you’ve not told anyone about it.
You might be guilty of writing it down somewhere, but you’ve kept that private too. So there’s no problem right?
Every time you use a password, it gets sent over the internet. If it’s correct, you get logged in.
In order for an online service to validate your login, it has to know your password – or at least enough about it to ensure what you’ve provided is a match.
If an online service contains security vulnerabilities, it won’t be long before all the usernames and passwords of all its customers will be stolen and end end up online for all to see. Hackers do this for fun and commercial gain.
Can I find out if my credentials have been leaked?
Yes you can. Check out the website of Troy Hunt: https://haveibeenpwned.com
Troy is a reputable and professional Information Security advisor. He’s been collecting published usernames and password lists over the last few years and has built a free service where anyone can check to see if their email address or username has been leaked.
At time of writing, Troy’s database has over four billion unique username and passwords.
His site also allows you to check whether your password has been publicised. It doesn’t give anything away other than saying that it’s known and that it should never be changed immediately.
What should I do?
The first step is to make a conscious decision to never ever use the same password for any online service ever again. This means having a unique password for every one.
You can do this by enlisting the help of a Password Manager and being tidy and disciplined.
Set up and use a Password Manager
Your password manager is the only place you should store your passwords.
To avoid storing (potentially different) passwords in different places, you should:
- Stop your browser from remembering passwords – you will be using your Password Manager for this. Here’s how.
- When you’ve got everything in your password manager, clear down all passwords stored in your browser. Here’s how.
- Always use your password manager and never store your passwords in a browser on any device.
- Whenever you sign up for an online service, use your password manager to generate and store a unique password.
- If you can’t use the password generation feature of your password manager, for example on your Smart TV, never use a weak password. Here’s a guide.
Add an extra layer of security
More and more online services also give you the option to add an extra layer of security called Two Factor Authentication (2FA) – sometimes called Multi Factor Authentication (MFA).
It sounds complicated, but is actually very straightforward and relatively friction-free.
How might this have happened?
- You have authorised an app in Facebook to post on your behalf
- Your have used the same email address and password on another online service and these credentials have been leaked/exfiltrated.
- You are using a weak easily-guessed password for either:
Facebook (this is fixable)
another service such as your mailbox (gmail, outlook etc) that an attacker has used with Facebook’s “forgot password” function (really bad)
your password manager (worst case)
What should I do?
- Change your Facebook password to a temporary one you’ve never used before and isn’t a variation of your previous one.
- Go through the apps you’ve allowed Facebook to use and revoke any you don’t recognise or don’t need any more.
Stop using the same password everywhere
Start using a password manager.
This will ensure you never inadvertently use the same password mire than once. When your login credentials are leaked (because they will be) the damage is then restricted to a single online service which can then be quickly fixed.
- Choose a password manager (such as LastPass, 1Password etc)
- Install it on all your devices. This includes desktops, laptops and mobile devices.
- Make sure your master password is a strong one which you haven’t used before and one you can easily remember. Choose 3 words and jo n them together. Don’t use any words that can be associated with you.
The password manager will install an extension or plugin into all detected browsers on you desktop/laptop. This is used to interact with the password managers central store and to enter your credentials for you into your web pages.
For mobile devices, go to your App Store and install the app for your chosen password manager. This will provide the same functionality on your mobile device.
Use your password manager to protect Facebook.
- Log out and log into into Facebook again.
- Change your password (again) and this time use your password manager to generate and secure a new secure one for you.
Secure your online footprint
Go through all your commonly used online services and all those where you suspect you might have used the same password.
Change your password on each of these services and use your password manager to generate and store a new secure password.
Stop your browser from remembering your passwords
Your chosen password manager now looks after your passwords. Go into your browser settings and disable “remember passwords”.
Purge any passwords your browser has remembered so it’s list is empty.
Go through the browsers on all your devices and make sure this has been done.
Turn on two factor authentication
If an online service allows the use of two factor (or multi factor) authentication, turn it on.
This means an attacker not only needs to KNOW your username and password, they also need to HAVE your mobile device in order to log in as you.