Facebook Tips: How to Stay Safe While Using Games and Apps

The maker of the popular FarmVille game has agreed to change its practices that subjected Facebook users to some scammy offers. But the more games and apps that you use on Facebook, the higher your risk for malware, phishing scams and hacking. Here are four tips for staying secure.

If you're one of the 63.7 million people playing the popular Farmville game on Facebook, you've probably noticed a change in how you earn points. FarmVille's parent company, Zynga, agreed last week to remove deceiving mobile subscriptions and "scammy" offers that lure players to register for services in exchange for game currency, which helps players to advance in the game.

The hope? To make Facebook a friendlier—and safer—place to play. But as more and more third-party apps are developed and downloaded—and as social gaming's popularity continues to increase—so do the chances that you're hit with malware, phishing scams and hackings. Chet Wisniewski, senior security advisor at Sophos, and Jon Erickson, vulnerability researcher at VMware and author of Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, shared four ways to play safe and stay safe on Facebook.

1. Limit the information in your profile.

When you agree to play a game on Facebook, you also agree to make all the information in your profile available to the game maker's company. In turn, the company uses your information for lead-generation, which is how it makes money. What most people don't realize, Wisniewski says, is that even if you don't play games or access applications on Facebook, your friends who do still put you at risk.

"With some games and applications, your friend can allow access to their profile, which also gives the company access to yours. There's this perception that you're only sharing your profile with your friends and family on Facebook," says Wisniewski. "You need to consider that anything you put in Facebook may as well be public, so don't include anything that would be good bait for identity thieves." This could include removing from your profile your birthday, hometown and high school or college—all of which are pieces of information that can be used to confirm your identity, Erickson adds.

2. Create a false profile.

Another option that nearly guarantees your safety is creating a new Facebook account with essentially no personal information, to use just for gaming and application purposes. "You can share this account with your friends if you are interested in social gaming or downloading applications, but because you'll have very little or no information in it, you reduce your likelihood of getting phished and having information stolen," Erickson says.

3. Monitor your privacy settings.

Facebook's privacy policy and privacy settings are ever-evolving, so stay up to date with its changes, says Wisniewski. Your privacy settings dashboard allows you to access who and what has access to your profile, who can search for you, the information that appears on your wall and news feed, and which information is available to the applications you use. As changes in Facebook's privacy policy are made, revisit your settings and change them as necessary.

4. Update your Web browser.

If you click a link on Facebook and your computer becomes infected—such as the new "Smart" worm infecting accounts—or view malicious Web content with an old version of a browser, it's likely that the updates won't contain bug fixes for these vulnerabilities, Erickson says. "If there are exploits in a banner ad, you're basically screwed if you're using an old browser," he says. "Usually when people are attacked like this, spamming or botnet software is installed, so you don't even know anything happened. In the world of computer security, you have to deal with both known and unknown exploits. At least in keeping your browser up to date, you can deal with the known exploits."

Kristin Burnham covers consumer Web and social technologies for CIO.com. She writes frequently on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. You can follow her on Twitter: @kmburnham.

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