Social media can provide a great glimpse into users lives to build connections, but posting too much information could put security at risk.
The other day while browsing my Facebook wall, I ran across a friend asking people a fun little question: What’s your hometown?
It’s an innocent enough question, but it’s also the kind of question you probably don’t want to answer publicly.
What’s the harm? Well, many websites use security questions to help people recover lost passwords. Most people, it’s easy to imagine, just go with the default security questions if they bother at all to set up such a line of defense against potential identity theft, and one of the most basic questions in such applications is, “What’s your hometown.”
So that one, naturally enough, starts off the list of things you should really think twice about sharing.
1. What is your hometown?/In which city were you born?
If you were born one place but grew up in a different town, as I did, there’s probably not so much harm in giving one answer or the other. Just make sure that you answer any security questions with the opposite place name that you use on public posts.
2. What is your mother’s maiden name?
Yes, there are public records from which criminals could gain this information. But using that as an excuse is a cop-out: why intentionally make it even easier for to do so by telling them?
3. What is the name of your first pet?
If I were ever to reveal that name — and in almost 13 years of blogging, I’ve made it a point not to — I’d use an alternate spelling at least. But I know her name and she knew her name, so that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
4. Which elementary school did you attend?
High schools and colleges are generally much easier to find online these days, so elementary schools at least present a slightly bigger challenge…until you hand a would-be criminal the answer.
5. What is your favorite color?
If you see this as a security question, change the question. There’s almost no way, if you’ve been online for a while, that you haven’t in some way revealed or implied the answer to this question. As an alternative, come up with a lesser-known variant of your favorite color for security reasons: periwinkle for “blue,” or chartruese for “green,” or vermillion for “orange,” just to name a few. At least you can honestly answer the question in a way that could make even good guessers remain stumped. But then you have to remember if your favorite color is purple, you entered lavendar to outsmart everyone else.
6. What was the make/model of your first car?
Since I’ve talked about my first car somewhere on this blog, I don’t allow that question to be a security question for any critical sites with which I have accounts. You could always alter the spelling of your answer, of course, like Ch3vrol3t for “Chevrolet,” but then the trick is you’d have to remember the alternate answer instead of the real one.
7. What is the name of your first-grade teacher?
I had two first-grade teachers, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned either one by name. In my case, if I were to allow that question to be a security question, I’d find a way to combine both their names into one name.
8. Where Did you travel for the first time?
Chances are you probably have photos somewhere on social media, especially if you’re not one to travel all that often.
9. Where did you meet your spouse?
If you’re the lovey-dovey type — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, you probably have mentioned this. And if you’re the lovey-dovey type with an amazing story about that first meeting, you’ve surely mentioned it before. Reject this question, if you can, or come up with an answer that is craftier: the name of the street where you met instead of the city or town name, for example. That will at least make a bit more of a challenge.
10. Where did you spend your honeymoon?
Chances are you or your spouse have posted photos somewhere of your honeymoon. If you haven’t and if you haven’t mentioned it on an anniversary post you happened to make on your public profile, this might be a little safer. But if someone can Google your wedding announcement from your local newspaper and your honeymoon plans are listed in that writeup, you probably don’t want to rely on this one, either.
Some sites will allow you to create your own security questions. This option gives you the chance to craft questions whose answers only you will know. Some sites also offer a two-step authentication, which allows you to receive a text or email with a code that you enter to complete the process.
I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but in this age of identity theft and online fraud, you have to remember to be safe.
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.