All posts by Amy Blake

Web Developer for Michigan Tech Information Technology Services

Think before your post: understand social media risks

You’re finally on that dream vacation with your family. You take a second for a selfie on the beach and post it to social media. Your app tags your photo with your location and the following:

Young Asian woman wear straw hat in casual style use smartphone taking selfie In paradise for the next two weeks! #vacation

This is pretty common. We’ve all probably seen this in social media feeds or have done it, too.

But before you hit post, consider what you’re potentially sharing to strangers.

  • You’re away from home.
  • How long you’ll be away.
  • If you’ve posted photos earlier in your feed that have also been geotagged with your location of your home, potential thieves could find out where you live.
  • And how did they find you? The hashtag helped (#vacation). When you added it to your post, you made it searchable.

Millions of people are using social media every day. Most assume that when they log into their favorite app that they’re entering a safe, controlled environment. However, social networking presents unique security challenges and risks.

Who Else Is Online?

Social media sites are not well-monitored playgrounds with protectors watching over you to ensure your safety. When you use social media, do you think about who might be using it besides your friends and connections? Following are some of the other users you may encounter.

  • Identity thieves. Cybercriminals need only a few pieces of information to gain access to your financial resources. Phone numbers, addresses, names, and other personal information can be harvested easily from social networking sites and used for identity theft. Cybercrime attacks have moved to social media, because that’s where cybercriminals get their greatest return on investment.
  • Online predators. Are your friends interested in seeing your class schedule online? Well, sex offenders or other criminals could be as well. Knowing your schedule and your whereabouts can make it very easy for someone to victimize you, whether it’s breaking in while you’re gone or attacking you while you’re out.
  • Employers. Most employers investigate applicants and current employees through social networking sites and/or search engines. What you post online could put you in a negative light to prospective or current employers, especially if your profile picture features you doing something questionable or “less than clever.” Think before you post a compromising picture or inflammatory status. (And stay out of online political and religious discussions!)

How Do I Protect My Information?

Although there are no guaranteed ways to keep your online information secure, following are some tips to help keep your private information private.

  • Don’t post personal or private information online! The easiest way to keep your information private is to NOT post it. Don’t post your full birthdate, address, or phone numbers online. Don’t hesitate to ask friends to remove embarrassing or sensitive information about you from their posts, either. You can NEVER assume the information you post online is private.
  • Use privacy settings. Most social networking sites provide settings that let you restrict public access to your profile, such as allowing only your friends to view it. (Of course, this works only if you allow people you actually know to see your postings — if you have 10,000 “friends,” your privacy won’t be very well protected.)
  • Review privacy settings regularly. It’s important to review your privacy settings for each social networking site; they change over time, and you may find that you’ve unknowingly exposed information you intended to keep private.
  • Be wary of others. Many social networking sites do not have a rigorous process to verify the identity of their users. Always be cautious when dealing with unfamiliar people online. Also, you might receive a friend request from someone masquerading as a friend. Here’s a cool hint — if you use Google Chrome, right-click on the photo in a LinkedIn profile and choose Google image search. If you find that there are multiple accounts using the same image, all but one is probably spurious.
  • Search for yourself. Do you know what information is readily available about you online? Find out what other people can easily access by doing a search. Also, set up an automatic search alert to notify you when your name appears online. (You may want to set alerts for your nicknames, phone numbers, and addresses as well; you may very well be surprised at what you find.)
  • Understand the role of hashtags. Hashtags (#) are a popular way to provide clever commentary or to tag specific pictures. Many people restrict access to their Instagram accounts so that only their friends can see their pictures. However, when someone applies a hashtag to a picture that is otherwise private, anyone who searches for that hashtag can see it.

My Information Won’t Be Available Forever, Will It?

Well, maybe not forever, but it will remain online for a lot longer than you think.

  • Before posting anything online, remember the maxim “what happens on the web, stays on the web.” Information on the Internet is public and available for anyone to see, and security is never perfect. With browser caching and server backups, there is a good chance that what you post will circulate on the web for years to come. So: be safe and think twice about anything you post online.
  • Share only the information you are comfortable sharing. Don’t supply information that’s not required. Remember: You have to play a role in protecting your information and staying safe online. No one will do it for you.

This content is brought to you by the Awareness and Training Working Group of the EDUCAUSE Higher Education Information Security Council (HEISC).


Global Accessibility Awareness Day

For most of us, it’s second nature to look up a website or use an app on our smartphone. We swipe, tap, and click without a second thought. But for some, this isn’t the case. Many people encounter barriers while using technology to perform basic tasks that many of us take for granted.

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). GAAD started in 2011 when Joe Devon challenged his fellow web developers to start taking web site accessibility seriously. Now GAAD is an annual event that takes place on the third Thursday of May. It’s a day to celebrate current work in digital accessibility, as well as share ideas on how we can continue to make websites more inclusive And while we’ve come along way in creating technology that works for all people, regardless of any disabilities or limitations, we’ve got a long way to go.

Accessibility at Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech has committed to making our technology accessible to people with disabilities. This includes University systems, websites, electronic documents, and educational and training materials. If you aren’t aware of our campus-wide effort, please visit the Michigan Tech accessibility website to learn more. You’ll find the university policy and resources to help you make your documents and materials accessible.

If you would like to get involved, please join our Accessible Technology Working Group (ATWG)! We have members from all areas of campus. Our sub-groups collaborate on how we can address current accessibility challenges and promote an inclusive teaching and learning environment.

Assistive technology in our everyday lives

Most of us use assistive technology every day and don’t realize it. Do you wear eyeglasses or contacts? You’re using assistive technology.

You’ve probably used accessibility features, too. Take video captions, which were created for the deaf community. It turned out that people with partial or full hearing loss weren’t the only ones who benefited. Captions have helped people who are learning secondary languages. Ever turned on closed captioning while streaming a movie at home? Being able to read the dialogue on screen is useful if you can’t have the volume turned up. Maybe you’re on the treadmill at the gym, watching a screen on the wall and can’t hear the audio. Maybe you’re a non-traditional student, holding your sleeping infant while trying to do work in your online course.

Ways to get involved

While GAAD’s focus is on web accessibility, you can still get involved, even if you aren’t a web developer. Today is a great day to take time and try and put yourself in the place of someone using technology with a disability. Try one of these:

  • Pull up a web page and try to use it without a mouse. Discover first-hand the obstacles that many who have physical limitations go through when they are on the web.
  • Zoom in on your screen. Many need to enlarge the view to read the text. How does it change your experience?
  • Use a screen reader. What if you couldn’t see the screen at all? There are free screen readers you can try (NVDA, Voiceover for Mac). Mac OS and Windows have features built into their operating system. “Viewing” a web site changes when you need to rely on a piece of assistive technology to help you read it. Are you able to access all the content you could if you were seeing it?

GAAD has a list of other ways you can participate if you’d like to learn more. If you create content for the web, check out Michigan Tech’s accessibility resources. Please reach out to someone on the ATWG or our Accessibility Coordinator with any questions.

When we make the web and technology accessible, it benefits everyone. It’s one step forward to a more inclusive world. We all have an important role to play, and it can start with us here at Michigan Tech. Join us!


Be an Avenger and protect yourself like a superhero!

Michigan Tech IT Fish mascot shows off Thanos' Infinity gauntlet glove

Don’t let Thanos wipe out half of your data or steal your identity. Arm yourself for the Endgame with the knowledge hidden in these online security Infinity Stones.