A popular perception is that social networking is an activity enjoyed almost exclusively by teens. But the NCSA social networking research study, in association with CA, revealed that 48 percent of social networking users are adults.
The research found that, although 57 percent of people who use social networking sites admit to worrying about becoming a victim of cyber-crime, they are still divulging information that may put them at risk.
Around 74 percent have given out some sort of personal information, such as their email address, name and birthday.
A further 83 percent of are downloading unknown files from other people's profiles potentially opening their PC to attack.
"Although the general community thinks that most social networking users are teens, the CA/NCSA survey showed that the popularity of these sites is extending beyond young early adopters to other segments of the population," said Ron Texeria, executive director of NCSA.
"Those who frequent these sites should be aware that the data they share may make them prey to online attacks.
"Giving out a social security number, paired with a birthday and name, could provide enough for criminals to hack into financial records and compromise users' personal information."
But users of social networking sites are also engaging in other risky behaviour, such as downloading unknown files and responding to unsolicited emails and instant messages, all of which may lead to ID theft, spyware, viruses and other risks.
Of those who have access to a computer at work, 46 percent engage in social networking at the office, potentially making the workplace vulnerable to online security threats.
The NCSA and the National Consumers League have established pointers to stay safe while on social networking sites:
- Guard your financial and other sensitive information. Never provide or post your Social Security number, birth date, address, phone number, bank account or credit card numbers, or other personal information that could be used by criminals.
- Picture social networking sites as billboards in cyber-space. Police, college admissions personnel, employers, stalkers, con artists, nosy neighbours can see what you post.
- Be cautious about meeting your new cyber-friends in person. After all, it's hard to judge people by photos or information they post about themselves.
- Think twice before clicking on links or downloading attachments in emails. They may contain viruses or spyware that could damage your computer or steal your personal information, including online passwords and account numbers.
- Protect your computer. Use a spam filter, antivirus software, anti-spyware software and firewall.
- Beware of con artists. Criminals scan social networking sites to find potential victims for all sorts of scams, from phoney lotteries to bogus employment and business opportunities and investment fraud.