Adults on Facebook just as needy as teens, but a bigger security risk

Survey shows adults want to be popular, too; give up privacy, other data to get it

Survey shows Facebook users (and the rest of us) are shallow and insecure

Wondering which of the users you work with is most likely to post secure data where it can be insecure, leave his or her personal firewall gates unlocked or just be careless about data security in ways that give you nightmares just thinking about them?

Look for the popular ones.

A study published this month in Social Psychological and Personality Science found adults on Facebook had almost the same pathetically high level of need for acceptance and popularity as teenagers, who share personal updates, birthday greetings and other inconsequential bits of "Hey, wha'ssup" with as many Friends as possible, often leaving their privacy settings unwisely low to allow as much interaction as possible.

Adults or adolescents with their Facebook privacy settings set high don't allow automatic, regular posts of information about their birthdays or other events, so they don't give others nearly as much opportunity to comment and, consequently, have far less Likery Pokery than other users, according to Emily Christofides, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph in Ontario and lead author of the study.

"You're going to find that there's less going on on your page, and you may actually feel less popular as a result," she told CNN.

"Adolescents reported disclosing more information on Facebook and using the privacy settings less than adults. Despite these differences, the results indicated that adolescents and adults were more similar than different in the factors that predicted information disclosure and control," the report said.

Adult Facebookers spent far less time on the site than adolescents, but shared about the same amount of information – both of which increase the risk for businesses concerned about what those adults may be posting or chatting about during business hours.

Short login times mean less exposure that would help the IT Fun Police track down the miscreants and implies less time to think about what to post or not post, further increasing the risk that information or links made public through the very, very public Facebook may be inappropriate or confidential.

That need for interaction and acceptance also raises the possibility of social-engineering attacks in which an innocently curious friend-of-a-Friend engages employees in online discussions about some project mentioned in passing on a Facebook page, giving the garrolous stranger (an aging ex-KGB agent named Boris now doing low-paid corporate espionage piecework for an oligarchical organized criminal corporation in Ukraine) the opportunity to pump chatty end users for even more information.

Given all the other risks insiders pose to data security – see the recent blog about the Citigroup employee in Japan who walked out the door with printouts of 92,000 user accounts – the risk of a little unguarded chat on Facebook isn't that critical.

The study is significant, though, in pointing out that just being adult-looking doesn't mean your professionally dressed and demeaned co-workers aren't the same gossipy, insecure, tell-all goofballs they were in high school.

They are. So are you and I. We just hide it better under fake-looking Old Person costumes and expressions of confidence and security that actually mean whatever it is we should be worrying about has slipped our minds and we're wondering if we wrote it down anyplace. Like maybe in that last Facebook update?

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