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Online security: top 10 tips for families and family offices

The risks of sharing too much information on social networking sites have been the subject of much comment and debate in recent weeks, writes Katie Barker. A campaign by some Facebook users, for example, saw close to 30,000 people delete their accounts yesterday in a protest over the sites privacy policies.

Following discussions with family offices and online security experts, here are 10 top tips on how to manage your online profile and decrease the risks posed by using these sites:

  1. Make web security part of your wider security agenda Ultra high net worth families and family offices have always had to be aware of their security and online security should be no different. Due to the wide-reaching and immediate nature of the internet it is vital that families begin this process sooner rather than later.
  2. Educate in order to prevent Educating family members on the risks that social networking sites pose is often more effective than simply imposing rules. Using real examples of other families who have been targeted through blackmail, theft and even kidnapping highlights the very real dangers of sharing too much information on the internet.
  3. Put rules in place for safe use of social networking sites Once the rules are clear it is easier for family members to understand what is expected of them and how to use sites safely. "Common sense" rules such as outlawing addresses, telephone numbers and personal information should be easily accepted by the family as being sensible rather than draconian.
  4. Enforce consequences on those who break the rules In order to show how serious breaches of security can be, enforcing consequences on any family member who breaks the rules is important. This can have a positive effect on the behaviour of the individual and their peers who see breaches of security being taken seriously. Remember it is not just next gen members who are always at fault!
  5. Address issues as soon as they arise If and when breaches of security arise it is vital they are addressed immediately; for example if unsuitable data, photos or comments are found online they are removed so as not to pose an ongoing problem.
  6. Monitor the family name on the internet Initially this will show how much and how easily information is currently accessible. Going forward it is a good idea to keep track of what is publicly available about the family and its members. If the family or family office does not have the capacity or inclination to do this themselves there are various security firms that can assist them.
  7. Work with the family as far as possible Communicate with the whole family throughout the development of rules and their implementation. This ensures no one feels "policed" by fellow family members or the family office.
  8. Involve the next generation in policy development The teenage years are about rebellion but if next gen members are included in the decision-making process they will feel empowered rather than alienated. Also they may provide some valuable insights into the world of social networking.
  9. Encourage the use of a secure family website As many families enjoy socialising with one another, a safer alternative to open social networking sites is a private family website. This means web use can be more closely monitored and breaches of security are less likely to be seen by those outside the family.
  10. Create a personal family policy Each family or family office must assess the specific risk to their family – is it kidnapping, extortion etc – then create a policy around that. Understanding the biggest security threats will make it easier to know which areas to monitor and concentrate on. 

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