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What’s your social thumbprint?

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- We've all done it; in a vain sense of curiosity to see if our social presence has made any kind of impact on the world. Just admit it - you've Googled yourself.

Since entering the golden age of social media, it seems that now it's not hard to gather a handful of information on just about anyone, even ourselves.

But isn't that the point? It's why we blast pictures of high school graduations, trips to Europe, and all our favorite music and movie "Likes" on our profiles. We want to be heard and seen, we want to share our accomplishments and victories and find support when life gets hard.

Social media has allowed us to network and reach across the barriers of time and space to share our story, build partnerships and connect with people from around the world we may never have had the chance to.

It's not hard to get caught up in the exchange of information and let our guard down, especially when we believe our information is safe. Generally, the information we share is harmless.

We start to run into trouble when the information we share across various social networks is strung together like pieces of a puzzle, creating a larger snapshot of our lives than we realize. When coupled with public records and open-source content, the information we share online can create vulnerabilities in our personal and professional lives.

But, where do we draw the line? When does information sharing become too much of a good thing?

Just as you would lock the front door of your home or secure your wallet, social media users should aim to lockup and secure their online personal information and do regular checkups of their social thumbprint.

This should include Googling yourself to not just see how awesome and popular you are, but to see what information is readily available or associated with your name. From there, you can take the necessary steps to protect or remove potentially revealing information.

Another important social checkup habit people should practice is digging into a website's privacy and security settings. All social media sites require users to accept and Privacy Act agreements and terms of use guidelines. Unfortunately, nearly everyone accepts these terms without every reading what they agreed to. This is probably one of the biggest culprits of overexposing personal information.

The agreements between social networking sites and users are designed to help keep personal information safe. However, it's our responsibility to ensure we use them to their fullest potential and not blindly accept new security settings without checking to see if our information is still secure.

The below list includes some additional best practices for keeping your social thumbprint safe and secure:

1. Think before you post: A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't say it in front of your boss or grandmother, then you probably shouldn't say it online. Remember, the Internet is permanent with a long memory of our actions. Even if you delete something, someone else may have already seen, copied and shared the information. When in doubt, keep it to yourself.

2. Be selective, be e-selective: Having a thousand-plus friends might look cool, but isn't realistic. It's important to scrutinize who you add as a "friend" and ensure that you actually know them. Don't be fooled by fake profiles and marketing schemes.

3. Geo-tag this: While you may have disabled location settings within a specific app or website, be sure to check the privacy settings within your smartphone, tablet and personal computer. You may be broadcasting your location without realizing it.

4. Log on, log off: It's easy to keep login information stored in a browser for faster access and simply "X-out" once done; however, this practice makes it easy for someone to follow behind and gain access to your account.

5. Once forgotten, twice exposed: With each new networking site or app, our information quickly becomes duplicated across multiple platforms; however, just because you moved on, doesn't mean your information did. Keep note of what sites you still use and delete old accounts you don't use such as an old dating profile, registry or blog.

6. The guessing game: How easy would it be for someone to guess your password or answer your security questions? Compare these passwords and questions against your profile and ensure you're not unintentionally giving away the answers. It may be easy to remember your favorite football team or superhero as a password, but how easy would it be to get that information on your personal profile and gain access to your account?

7. Cookie monsters: Internet cookies work to tag and track computers and user behavior. This information is used by marketers to target specific groups of people and tailor advertising. It's important to only allow cookies from trusted sites and regularly clear your browser and machine using a cookie cleaner.

8. Go phish: Online confidence scams, otherwise known as phishing, is a way for hackers or companies to gain access to personal and sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card numbers. This is done through what seems to be legitimate online communications such as games, chatrooms, online payments, Wi-Fi hotspots, news links and more. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of phishing scams it to closely scrutinize the source of information, and never disclose personal information such as credit card numbers, passwords or addresses over the internet without double checking the security of the website. Again, when in doubt, keep it to yourself.

9. All the world's a stage: It may seem harmless to keep our personal social media pages open for public viewing, however, by leaving the virtual door open to the whole world we leave ourselves vulnerable to unwanted attention. Take control of your default privacy settings and limit the viewing power of your audience to a personal VIP list.

10. The buck starts and stops with you: Ultimately, you control what information is available about you. Don't give online scammers, predators or hackers a free ticket to your personal information. Take control, take action and help keep the Internet a safe place to socialize.

For more information on ways to stay informed on social media, visit: http://www.defense.gov/socialmedia/education-and-training.aspx/
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