Social networking is growing in popularity, however a recent study indicates that users of social networking websites engage in risky behavior, potentially putting themselves at risks to hackers and identify thieves.

According to research done by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and software firm Computer Associates, 74 percent of user divulge personal information, including email addresses and birthdays. Some users even download unknown files, respond to unsolicited emails or instant messages, all of which may lead to identity theft or virus attacks.

Those who frequent these sites should be aware the data they share may make them prey for online attacks, said Ron Texeria, executive director of NCSA. Giving out a social security number, paired with a birthday and name, could provide enough ammunition for criminals to hack into financial records and compromise users' personal information.

Adults who use social networking sites may be putting themselves and their businesses at risk as well the report suggests. 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.

As social networking use continues to increase in popularity, it is imperative that people take steps to safeguard their information at home and at work, said David Luft, senior vice president of Product Development for CA.

Users can minimize their risks of becoming victim by changing online behaviors. The report suggests to guard social security numbers and bank account numbers, take caution when downloading files, and installing certain protective software.

Users must be aware of the specific unsafe behaviors which make them vulnerable to online predators, hackers and thieves, Luft concludes.

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