The internet is a wide, vast sea of data. You’ve probably heard of it as the “information highway”; at least that’s how our high school computer books defined it (for the entire level). If you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph 2, you probably recall how they visualized it with clean roads where different personalities and personas coalesce. Oh, and the memes, all the cat memes are on point (if you’ve been to Reddit, I’m sure you’ll understand)!
True enough, the internet is like a city, and it continues to expand indefinitely every day. However, every city has its fair share of unsavory nook and crannies. There are undertown elements in the form of hackers or phishers that use the information highway for petty trolling like through mild irritations like inconveniencing you with ads, jump scares, and other small concerns. But that’s just one end of the spectrum.
The other end is the sketchier one. Like Chicago in the 1900s, we have some serious skullduggery going on through troll armies (ones that purposely deliver fake information), data mining (like using your own computer for cryptocurrency mining), and scamming.
Okay… But So What?
You’re thinking, “This is cool and all, but I really don’t care.” Well, you should, especially if you have a social media account. And you know what? There are over 3.2 Billion people that have one, which is a little over 42% of the world’s population.
Now I have your attention.
I had a cousin once that shared his driver’s license when he was selling his old PS Vita through Facebook Marketplace. Sellers usually do this as a form of security should the deal go awry. In just as little as three months, his face was plastered all over the group with threats and reports–he was coined as a bogus buyer. When he checked in with the admins and supposed victims, his driver’s license was used by scammers to fish for other sellers’ information then promptly leave them hanging.
The hacker was mining ID and sensitive information. The whole issue died down in around two weeks, but he no longer had the trust of people in the group. We found two fake accounts under his name, bearing his old public profile pictures. Both were taken down but not without some serious mob-reporting from us relatives. He never used the platform for selling ever again.
An Internet Horror Story?
Now, this is not a scary internet bedtime story to shake you out of using your social media accounts. This article is more of a soft nudge. In your family, how many use social media? How often? Do you have children or younger siblings using platforms? Would you say that you can ensure the content they view are safe for them? How about the safety of their accounts? How do you protect the privacy of their search histories in the apps?
According to the Pew Research Center in 2015, over 94% of teens go online, and over 71% have more than one social media platform! According to Social Media Today, the overall damage of social media to households amounts to over $4.55 in a year. Yikes! The social media hacking plague is real, people!
Here’s a truth bomb: Your social media account is already vulnerable. Even if you do all the safety tips like having an alphanumeric password, logging out every session, and having two-factor authentication you’re pretty much still at risk–and those are the most powerful security practices you can do. How? Well, the moment you signed-up for a Twitter or Instagram account, you already gave the companies your online persona. Call it a deal with the devil or an equivalent exchange; you’re still at risk. By giving those companies your metadata like the things you like, your browsing habits, your most-viewed products, they get a better picture of who you are. They may even know you better than some of your closest friends and family. *shudder*
What Attacks Are You Vulnerable To? (And Should You Delete Your Search History On Instagram, Like, Right Now?)
Technically, you, as a user, can be secure if you do the safety tips I mentioned above. The problem is, the companies who you gave access to your account are the ones at risk. Behemoths of companies they may be, they are never completely safe from hacking attacks. One such example is how over hundreds of Instagram users were locked out of their own accounts last year. Their profile pictures were replaced by film reels (like a grotesque serial killer calling card) and they couldn’t reset their passwords as their recovery emails were changed and rerouted to a russian email server. Stuff of nightmares, that one.
The seemingly harmless password change hack on Instagram of 2018 has a deeper implication. In those few minutes that the hackers held on to your account, your private metadata was most likely seen and stored; these could be billing addresses, your follower and friends list, and social media behavior. These can be sold to the highest bidders to advertising companies. Think of it as a black market data aggregation. See the mafia-ness of the entire situation?
(Kind of makes you want to delete even your search history on Instagram, doesn’t it?)
How Your Own Data Can Harm You
The more data you store in your account, the more it can be used against you.
Think back when you signed-up using your account; how many what information did you divulge? Even the smallest details matter especially if you have a lot to lose (e.g. you handle multiple accounts or businesses, or you’re trying to establish a brand). Hackers can take control of your pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, or even your high school to manually reset passwords or take a peek in your other accounts. Simply alarming! If you’ve watched Now You See Me, you’ll understand it better.
Enough doom and gloom; can we actually do something about it?
How You Can Deal With All Of This
You can still do more things for your security by giving less.
The next section will teach you how to do this, and let’s focus on Instagram first as it’s the most sensitive for marketers, influencers, and even its regular users.
Two-Factor Authorization (And Phishing)
When you go home for work, you turn off all appliances, pet the cat, and double-lock your doors. Two-factor authentication is like double-locking your account; even if hackers have one way of barging in, if you have a different key for the deadbolt, your house is most likely safe. The first lock in your account is your alphanumeric (plus a symbol or two), six-digit password. Protip: Make sure you have different passwords for accounts; even a small difference is already a layer of protection.
However, strong passwords are just that. Now what if your password was guessed or (don’t do this!) someone found it lying around? Or what if your password was phished?
Phishing is the act of a malicious website masquerading as the login page of your Instagram or other online accounts. It might seem like a weak bait for suckers, but in reality, there was already a massive data theft incident this April 2019 through the Nasty List phish. Basically, there was a viral link going around saying something like, “OMG your (sic) actually on here at number 38” or, “WOW. Your (sic) on here!!! ranked 100.” The link then led to a fake login page where poor victims were virtua-mugged.
Over hundreds of users had their credentials stored for who-knows-what. Check out the tricky URL above.
So, what’s two-factor authentication? Basically, you add another action before you can log in to your account. You need to type in a verification code to be sent via SMS or a third-party authentication app (e.g. Duo Mobile or Google Authenticator). Hackers can’t physically have your phone and know your password at the same time.
(And yes, we’ll also tackle how to delete your search history on Instagram later.)
Enabling Two-Factor Authorization
To get started, follow these steps as seen in Instagram’s help center:
- Go to your profile and tap , then tap Settings.
- Tap Security and then scroll down.
- Tap Two-Factor Authentication.
- Next, tap Authentication App, then tap Set Up Manually. If you don’t see the toggle switch, tap Get Started.
- Tap Copy Key below the Instagram key and paste it into your authentication app (example: Duo Mobile or Google Authenticator).
- Note: You should copy the key code to your clipboard, take a screenshot, or save it in some other way since you won’t be able to access the code again once you’ve finished setting up.
- After your Instagram account is linked to your authentication app, copy the 6-digit code your authentication app creates.
- Go back to the Instagram app, tap Next and paste the 6-digit code to complete the process on that device.
And voila! Just like that, your account becomes doubly protected.
Disabling Third-Party Application Access
Third-party apps are neutral by nature. I use a few myself; these are like Santa’s little helpers. What the applications can’t do by themselves, they do. Some examples for Instagram are auto-posters, explain your analytics, and more. However, trusting third-party applications for Instagram can be dangerous by themselves. You might have even installed one without understanding it , like how your mother’s laptop has always been full of random toolbars in Chrome.
Here’s how to check and disable questionable third-party apps:
- Log into your account through the desktop app (you can’t do this via mobile as of the moment).
- Click Edit Profile on top.
- Click Manage Applications, then Authorized Applications. You can then choose which third-party apps to remove.
And that’s two! Here’s the last tip to make sure your Instagram is safe.
Delete Your Cache, Data, And Search History on Instagram
It’s been a running joke in pop culture that when friends pass away, it’s an honor to delete their browsing history. Heck, I’m sure that some of the things in my Instagram and browser search history might embarrass me, too. You won’t want people to see what’s in your Instagram search history… would you?
I mentioned above that the biggest issue with social media and your smartphones is that you feed too much information about yourself. If someone steals, hacks, or “borrows” your phone, all of your data will be at the mercy of your hacker (or hackers).
How To Delete Your Search History On Instagram
Depending on whether you use Android or iOS, there are different ways to do this. Let’s tackle both:
- Go to your phone’s Settings menu.
- Go to Applications or Apps & Notifications (this depends on operating systems; find the most similar one).
- Find and click Instagram, then choose Storage.
- Click Delete Cache and Delete Data. You might be prompted for a fresh log-in after, but at least your phone is cleaner and safer!
- Go to your phone’s Settings. Then, click General.
- Click iPhone Storage.
- Find Instagram in the list of applications.
- Click Documents and Data, then click Offload App. This should now clear all your search histories like keywords, and other common suggestions.
After these three steps, hopefully, you have a better and more secure Instagram account. After all, you’ve stored more than memories; you’ve protected yours and your contacts’ privacy!