Your digital footprint reveals a lot about you and your activities on the internet.
While we would argue that your personal data is your data and no one should be collecting it without your consent, many legitimate businesses make use of the data in your digital footprint in a variety of ways. These can range from saving online shopping carts to presenting customized offers and information. Instead of collecting only what is necessary, however, many companies will treat your personal data as a seed, which they actively try to grow by obtaining more knowledge about you. And as your profile grows in each company’s database, the size of your digital footprint grows with them.
The trouble is that cybercriminals can make use of your digital footprint, too. They can use it for purposes such as phishing for account access or creating synthetic identities based on your data.
As an HR professional, you want your employees to maintain digital footprints that support only the online activities your employees choose, while reducing their risks from cybercriminals.
In this article, we’ll look at ways you can share to “clean up” and “reduce the exposure of” a digital footprint.
Beware what you share
Limiting what you share online is one of the best ways to manage your digital footprint. There are three aspects of sharing here to consider.
Social sharing concerns the information you share through various forms of social media. For starters, many people make it all too easy to find their phone number, address, and email. They share their locations automatically, making it easy to track them. Additionally, when users “like” their own banks, healthcare providers, pharmacies, etc., they can lead cybercriminals straight to critical accounts. Unless there’s a real need to make those things public — which there rarely is — think twice before posting them.
Submissions concern all those online forms you fill out. Each time you provide your personal information to an organization, you widen your digital footprint. You also increase the possibility that one of the organizations storing your data will misuse it or suffer a breach, either of which can put your data in the wrong hands. So before you submit that form, consider if it’s worth it or not. Are there other ways to get that information or service without sharing your data?
Login sharing through Facebook may seem convenient, but it’s not safe. Always log in directly with the third-party site you’re visiting.
Avoid unsafe websites
Before you make a post or submit a form, always check the URL. If it begins with “HTTP” instead of “HTTPS,” you should reconsider entering any personal information there. That’s because the “S” in the URL stands for “secure.” Nowadays, there are very few valid reasons for a site collecting information from visitors to fail to provide a secure site. With the amount of information your browser itself can pass on, even browsing to those sites can be dangerous. And never enter confidential information on an unsecured site, especially payment or financial data.
An unsecured site could also represent a “fake” site set up for a phishing attempt. If you think it’s strange for a particular site to be unsecured, do a search for that company and see if you have the right URL. The differences are often no more than a character or two, so be careful.
Be cautious on public networks
While normal browsing may be fine, you should refrain from transmitting sensitive data over public Wi-Fi networks whenever possible. That’s because your device “broadcasts” anything you send via Wi-Fi to anyone who’s “listening” on the network — and that can include identity thieves. Ideally, your transmission would be encrypted, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes only certain bits of information, such as passwords, are encrypted, leaving other personal data, such as usernames and emails, exposed.
In these cases, your best bet is to use your wireless data plan for important transmissions such as online banking, and stick to basic activities such as browsing and streaming on public Wi-Fi.
Delete what you don’t need
Most people would be surprised at how many open accounts they have. When they add them all up — banking, services, newsletters, stores, etc. — the final tally is often far more than they’d expect.
One effective way to reduce your digital footprint is to close old accounts you no longer need. Not sure where to look? Here are a few suggestions:
- Password vaults or browser password storage
- Social media accounts
- Online bookmarks
- Email and newsletter subscriptions
The important thing is to not just delete or turn off these accounts, but to close them. For example, deleting an email newsletter is not the same as unsubscribing from it or deleting your account. Similarly, turning off notifications from a shopping site isn’t the same as closing your account.
Stay up to date
Breaches sometimes occur when cybercriminals exploit flaws they find in operating systems, browsers, networks, and other related software. One way to limit your digital footprint’s exposure is to keep your own software up to date.
That means turning on automatic updates to ensure you close those loopholes as quickly as possible. Many forms of software come with their own automated update programs, but some users turn them off to minimize the minor performance hits those programs represent. In these cases, the reward is seldom worth the risk. Failing to install an important security update, for example, leaves you exposed and can put all your data at risk.
Use an identity protection service
Reducing and protecting your digital footprint helps keep it out of the wrong hands. But sometimes, breaches happen at the big companies storing your personal data — and contributing to your digital footprint — such as Exactis, Equifax, and Facebook.
In these instances, your best defense is an identity theft protection service. Features such as dark web monitoring, full remediation support, and reimbursements will help keep you and your finances safe even when your digital footprint is exposed.
PrivacyArmor provides all this and more for you and your employees. If you have any questions about digital footprints, or about how PrivacyArmor protects them, please give us a call.