Posting photos online is a common part of our online interactions, especially on highly visual sites like Facebook and Instagram. Although photos of family events and daily outings can be fun, they carry a number of hidden risks when posted online for strangers or mere acquaintances to see.
Most of the time, cybercriminals won’t pick on ordinary people who post a few basic photos on a social media site. However, with the wrong combination of factors and motivations in play, you could find yourself targeted by hackers or identity thieves. Here are five reasons why posting pictures online could be more dangerous than you realize.
In recent years, scammers have started creating fake social media profiles using other people’s names and photos. When someone you know in real life sees one of these profiles, they sometimes have no way of knowing for sure whether it’s you or not. Cybercriminals take advantage of this to ask your friends and family for money or abuse your identity in other ways.
In addition to making a fake account with your name on it, identity thieves could also use your photos to figure out details about your life. For example, a high school yearbook or trophy in the background of a photo could reveal where you currently or formerly attended school. This could help reveal answers to security questions and make it easier for thieves to impersonate you to gain access to financial accounts.
Posting photos online makes it easier for scammers to create a convincing social media profile. In theory, even one or two photos is enough for them to fool people. However, having more photos makes it easier for them to create a dating site profile or an entire Instagram in your name.
Doxxing is the act of finding and publishing someone’s personal information online. In many cases, this includes posting your name, city, place of employment, school, and contact information in connection with an online profile.
Doxxing is fastest when a cybercriminal sends you a fake link to click on, then uses that link to log your IP address. However, your IP address is not a definitive link to your identity, especially if you are using a virtual private network (VPN) to hide your IP address.
When you post photos of yourself online, it becomes much easier for a cybercriminal to use your photo to confirm your identity. In some cases, a cybercriminal can use multiple clues from your profile, including your photos, to match your social media details with a Facebook or LinkedIn profile.
From there, the cybercriminal can make a public post revealing as many details about you as they can gather. This can result in threats and harassment from hundreds of people, especially if you had recently posted something controversial.
When your smartphone or digital camera takes a picture, it logs certain data in the photo file itself. This data is known as metadata, and it contains the date and time the photo was taken as well as any GPS coordinates or other information available.
Although this information is helpful for photographers trying to keep track of their image files, it can be dangerous to upload the files while they still contain this information. In many cases, tech-savvy internet users will be able to retrieve this information and use it to dox or stalk you.
You can strip metadata from your photos, but websites may still log information about the device the photo was uploaded from. This can make it difficult to fully protect your online privacy even if you take a full range of precautions.
Blackmail may occur in conjunction with the threat of doxxing but sometimes involves other threats. Since blackmail is most effective if the blackmailer knows your real name, having a photo of yourself on your online profile could be the ticket they need to confirm your identity. This is especially true if you post photos to Facebook, which uses your real name, in addition to posting photos to more anonymous sites like Twitter.
Even if the photos themselves are harmless, they can allow a cybercriminal to more decisively link your identity to any questionable online posts you’ve made. This can then open the door for them to threaten to expose your online activities to people you know in real life, even if they don’t intend to fully doxx you online.
Lost Job Prospects
Employers routinely screen prospective employees’ online activity as much as possible. Even if you don’t have your full, real name attached to your social media account, they could still spot it if you have your photo uploaded to it and you interact with their social media posts.
This could have huge consequences if any photos show you drinking underage, engaging in risky activities, or in the presence of drugs or guns. Even if the photo doesn’t show anything illegal, some employers might err on the side of caution and choose a candidate with a cleaner overall image.
Sometimes, an image that seems innocent enough to you could still be a problem for future employers. For example, a photo that shows you partying with someone could end up being a problem if that person attracts controversy later. In our hyper-connected world where it’s difficult to erase things from the internet, it’s best to leave as many things offline as possible.
Compromised Home Security
Posting online pictures of vacations is a wonderful way to preserve memories and share the experience with friends and family. However, posting pictures during your vacation could have dire consequences for your home security.
Adding vacation images to your social media posts or stories in real-time or live-streaming events can indicate to potential criminals that your home is unoccupied, making it a target for burglary.
Only post images once you have returned from holiday, and indicate in your captions that you are now at home. You should also invest in a comprehensive home security system, with security cameras, door and window sensors, and a smart alarm that not only alerts you to a break-in but also the authorities.
How to Protect Yourself
If you must post a photo of yourself online, make sure to only use it on accounts that contain a minimal amount of information. Your LinkedIn can use a professional profile photo, for example, but only if you keep it clear of other information about your family members and places you like to hang out.
Check the background of any photos you post to ensure the background contains no significant clues to your location, employer, or school. If you want to post a full-body photo to show off an outfit or post a cool photo containing your face, consider blurring out your eyes or wearing sunglasses.
Keep in mind that social media sites sometimes have privacy settings that make it harder for people to target your photos, but no website is entirely foolproof. By being careful which photos you post online, you’ll make it easier for you to maintain your security online no matter who decides to target you.