Social media users are playing into cyber criminals’ hands through risky behaviour, according to a recent study. The international report entitled “How do users assess threats on the Internet?” reveals that nearly one in five users click on all published links when using social media, regardless of who they are from.

With the rise of social media, one of the most popular trends among users is to provide links to interesting web content. Unfortunately cyber criminals are increasingly capitalising on this behaviour to entice users to click onlinks to virus-infested sites and thus infect their PCs with malware.

Market leader Facebook alone is said to have well over 700 million members worldwide, which translates to 130 million users being careless enough to fall into the traps of cyber-criminals.

However, the results of the survey also highlightdifferences between user groups: Older users are considerably more cautious in their use of portals than younger ones and women are somewhat more security-conscious than men.

Cyber-criminals are increasingly using social networks to distribute malware. One of the most popular scams is the deliberate distribution of malicious code via links posted on portals. A link to an alleged scandalous video leads directly to a website infected with malicious code.

Users cannot easily recognise these dangerous links as the addresses are significantly abbreviated. Using security solutions with a built-in http scan adds additional security and should be mandatory.

The study investigated and analysed the behavior of almost 16,000 web users in 11 countries.

“Silver surfers” are slightly ahead in social networks

In general, younger members use social platforms for longer and more intensively than “silver surfers”. Despite this, older users are considerably more cautious in using the portals. The older the users, the less likely they are to click on links.

In contrast, younger respondents are more prepared to take risks when using social networks. As age decreases, so does the proportion of users who are differentiating between links from known and unknown users.

Women are more security-conscious

The survey also highlights slight differences in the way men and women use Facebook and other similar sites. Male users take more risks when using social networks.

Like the younger age group, men are less likely to notice whether a link comes from a known or unknown user. Women appear to have a slightly higher awareness of risks when social networking, preferring to click on URLs from members of their own network.