Half of social networkers post risky information, study finds

Consumer Reports survey also notes that social network use in the U.S. has doubled over the past year

More than half of all users of social networks in the U.S. are posting information that could put them at risk from cyber criminals, according to a Consumer Reports study.

The magazine, which released its State of the Net survey today, noted that 52 percent of adults who use social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, have posted information like their full birth date, which could be used to commit crimes against them.

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Consumer Reports, which publishes product reviews and ratings, also noted that the number of American households that use social networks has doubled in the past year.

"Many people use social networking sites to share personal information and photos with their friends quickly and easily," said Jeff Fox, technology editor for Consumer Reports , in a statement. "However there are serious risks involved, which can be lessened by using privacy controls offered by the sites."

Of 2,000 Americans Consumer Reports surveyed in January, 9 percent said they had experienced some kind of trouble-- malware infections, scams, identity theft, or harassment -- due to their presence on a social network.

They study found that people who post personal information, such as their full birth dates, photos and names of children, home addresses, and times they'll be away from home, put themselves at the most risk of being taken advantage of.

Consumer Reports said the survey found that 42 percent of people on Facebook post their full birth date, 16 percent post their children's names, 63 percent post photos of themselves, and 7 percent note their home address.

The magazine offered social network users several tips to lessen the chance of being hit by cyber criminals.

First, don't post a phone number or a full address online. Be vague when posting information about vacations or business trips so criminals won't know when your home will be unoccupied. Also, the magazine suggested, use strong passwords, mixing upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.

Users should not post their children's names, even in photo tags or captions, Consumer reports added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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