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How Your Digital Footprint Could Become A Security Risk

Aug. 21, 2014
David Willson

DigitalFootprintAA052362Have you ever Googled yourself to see how much of your personal information is online? In many cases it can be pretty scary and include things like your home address, phone number, likes, dislikes, etc. One young man searched for himself and found all of his banking information online. In that case it turned out to be a mistake by a bank employee, exposing the banking information of 86,000 customers.

So how much information about you is online? A little? A lot? How much of it was put online by someone else? How much of it have you put online?

Would you believe me if I told you a lot of that information comes from your social media, like Facebook? Much of it also comes from publicly available records, sites you sign up for and information other people put into online data bases about you.

I was recently speaking to a bank, and they said they needed to verify who I was. The representative told me that their system would generate identifying questions from publicly available information. She then proceeded to ask me questions about previous addresses and other information.

I began to wonder, “Where did that information come from?” Think about all of the personal information that is provided to organizations such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, banks, retail stores, state and federal agencies, etc. What do they do with that information? How secure is it?

The funny thing is even though we freely provide personal information, whether to merchants or professionals, we expect it to be protected with Fort Knox-like security. But then we go home and we put way too much personal information out on social media or provide too much data in online forms for things we want for free. In many cases, people just don’t realize how their actions online expose themselves.

For example, did you hear about the case of the gentleman in Massachusetts? He bought a big-screen TV and took a picture of it in his house. The camera automatically embedded the latitude and longitude in the picture. He then posted the picture on Facebook and announced he was going on vacation for a week. Well, what do you know? While he was gone, thieves showed up and stole his TV.

So, what is a digital footprint?

According to the Pew Research Center, “A digital footprint is the trail of data that is left behind by users on digital services.”

Does a larger footprint make you more of a target? There is a lot to be said for “security by obscurity!” If no one knows you’re out there, the likelihood of being targeted is very low. But how realistic is that? In the physical world, that is the equivalent of moving out to a remote location in the woods were no one else lives. It would be peaceful but get pretty lonely pretty quickly.

You need to find your happy medium. Enjoy your time online, but be smart about it.

If you need to sign up for things, create a throwaway email account and don’t use any personally identifying information in the email address, like Also, be ready to challenge people when they ask you for personally identifiable information. Ask why it is needed, how it will be used and how the information will be protected. If you Google yourself and find way too much information online, determine the sites posting that information and ask to have it removed. In many cases they will or there are laws that require they remove it. Most of all, think about what you post, why and how it may impact you.

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