A number of major corporations have had their social media account hacked in recent months, including Burger King, Jeep and even major news networks such as NBC News and USA Today. With an increase in breaches and the malicious use of social networks to spread malware and viruses and inappropriate content, social media security is more important than ever.

Burger King and Jeep narrowly escape disaster

Burger King’s experience could have potentially devastated the brand’s reputation, but fortunately, the burger giant gained about 30,000 new followers thanks to the publicity the hack achieved. Just one day later, Jeep suffered a similar attack with perpetrators claiming the popular brand had been sold to Cadillac.

These attacks earned so much attention in the social sphere that MTV and BET actually staged a faux hack of one another’s accounts in an attempt to exploit the publicity, switching their icons and staging the opposing account to look like their own. The hoax ended after about an hour, with the networks admitting that they were “catfish-ing” their followers. But social media security isn’t all fun and games, and the true takeovers of Jeep, Burger King and the like could have had much more devastating consequences.

Social media is ripe for malware

Social media networks have become one of the primary ways to spread malware. Koobface, one of the most detrimental viruses spread through Facebook, reportedly generated $2 million in revenue through sending messages to users’ contact lists and posting on walls to entice other users to click—generating profits through pay-per-click and traffic referral schemes. While Koobface has reportedly been eradicated from Facebook, it’s still making its way about other web properties, and Facebook is still a channel for spreading other viruses and malware.

In fact, 40 percent of all accounts on social media sites are spam—and eight percent of all messages sent through and posted on these networks are, as well. While spam itself isn’t necessarily harmful to your computer or your security, spam links can take you to sites that will monitor and track your behavior and even your keystrokes, eventually leading to full-blown hacks, malware and identity theft.

How to stay protected while remaining social

So how do you avoid all this potential devastation without hanging up your social media presence altogether? The fact is, spam, malware, and other threats are going to be present when you’re socializing online. You can’t do anything to prevent your friends from being hacked and sending you links to virus-ridden websites. But you can be smart about your behavior online and avoid becoming a victim using LDAP security cheat sheet from Veracode.

  • Maintain an up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware security program. This can be your first line of defense if you accidentally click a malicious link. If the Trojan or worm is identifiable, your security software could block it or remove it from your system before it can do any real damage.
  • Don’t open suspicious messages or links. Even messages coming from the friends you communicate with most frequently could be spreading a virus. If a message looks suspicious or contains a strange link, don’t open it. Instead, ask your friend if the message is legit first—or delete it altogether. Either way, you should warn your friend that they’ve potentially been hacked.
  • Don’t repeat your login credentials on more than one site. Don’t use the same password across all your social networks—if you’re hacked, it’s easy for the cyber criminals to tap into your entire social world if you use the same login credentials on more than one site.
  • Use strong passwords and change them frequently. Passwords should contain at least one uppercase and one lowercase letter, one number and one special character. The longer your password, the harder it will be to crack. You should also change your passwords every 30 days or more frequently to maintain tight security.

Social media is big among both consumers and corporations, whether for purely social reasons or as a marketing tool. Neither group is safe from potential security threats, and the impacts can range from a harmless prank to a devastating identity takeover. Staying secure while using social media must be a top priority for all users to avoid the spread of harmful malware and other threats.

Author Bio: Fergal Glynn is the Director of Product Marketing at Veracode, an award-winning application security company specializing in spoofing attack guide from Veracode and other security breaches with effective risk assessment tools