With every website you visit, you leave behind personal tidbits. From where you live to what you like to spend your money on and even some of your unique personal details, there is a trail of your online activities that hackers hope to track and exploit.
This trail is known as your digital footprint. Making a concerted effort to reduce it is key to keeping your personal information protected from cybercriminals.
What is a Digital Footprint?
A digital footprint is sometimes referred to as an electronic footprint or digital shadow. It is essentially a trail of information left behind after you spend time on the internet. Among the data included in your digital footprint is:
- Emails you send
- Information you provide online
- Websites you frequent
- Newsletters you subscribe to
- Social media posts you make
- Online reviews you post
- Online shopping you do
Ensuring your digital footprint remains as small as possible is important to your online safety. The information you inadvertently leave behind on the internet can be tracked by cybercriminals.
Sometimes, your digital footprint increases without your knowledge or consent. Some websites install cookies on your computer or mobile device, allowing them to accumulate data on you. When a company has been given access to your data, they can then sell it or provide it to a third party without your knowledge.
If that isn’t bad enough, this type of non-consensual data collection can mean your personal information becomes compromised if a data breach occurs.
What are Active and Passive Digital Footprints?
There are two different types of digital footprints you need to be aware of: active and passive.
A digital footprint is deemed active when you voluntarily provide information about yourself. This information can be given through something as simple as social media posts, online forums, or networking websites. If you have created a profile on a website, the posts you make under that username are all a part of your active digital footprint.
Here are some other ways you may be unknowingly contributing to your current active digital footprint:
- Filling out online forms
- Subscribing to newsletters on websites
- Accepting a website’s cookies via a browser
By comparison, a passive digital footprint is information that is gathered about you without your knowledge or consent. This sometimes happens when a website retains information about you such as the frequency with which you visit their site, your physical location, and your IP address.
Another way your passive digital footprint may increase is through social media platforms and marketing sites noting your likes, shares, and comments then using them to introduce you to advertising materials for things they hope you will buy.
Why is a Digital Footprint a Problem?
Digital footprints are very difficult to erase once out in the public domain. Once you have posted on a public website or forum, you lose most of the control over how that content may be used by others in the future.
Here are several different ways your digital footprint can potentially negatively impact you in the future:
- Future employers can search your digital footprint prior to an interview.
- Colleges and universities check the social media accounts of all applicants.
- Photos and text posted online can be misconstrued or altered.
- Private content can be shared, damaging outside relationships.
- Cybercriminals can use your digital footprint against you by making fake profiles to gain access to your accounts.
What are the Best Ways to Minimize Your Digital Footprint?
Minimizing your digital footprint is the best thing you can do to keep your online personal information safe.
Here are our top tips to help reduce the size of your digital footprint, whether active or passive:
- Do a search of your own name
Search engines are excellent tools to help you find out what information about you is on the worldwide web. Be sure to use your first and last name in the search bar then check alternate spellings to see what information arises. Check any former names you may have gone by as well.
If you happen to discover anything that is negative, you can reach out to the administrator of that website to ask if they can remove it.
- Set up Google alerts.
Google Alerts are an excellent tool to help you keep on top of any information that may be added about you online. These alerts will inform you any time your name is mentioned and will provide the link, so you can review the content.
- Cut down on the number of sites that publish your personal information
Websites such as realtors and whitepages.com may display information you’d rather be kept private including your phone number and address. You can contact these site administrators and ask for the content to be removed.
- Be wary about the information you share online
Keep your personal details private as much as possible. Each time you choose to offer your personal information to any website or organization, your digital footprint becomes larger. This puts you at greater risk. Before making a commitment to share your personal data, be certain it is really worthwhile for you.
It is also worth checking to see if you can still obtain the product or use the service without providing personal details online.
- Keep on top of your privacy settings
Social media platforms have privacy settings that allow you to control who is able to read the information you share. You need to regularly review these to be certain the audience you have selected is trustworthy.
- Limit what you say on social media
Social media is a wonderful thing, allowing you to stay in contact with friends and family all over the world. However, it is quite easy to become some comfortable with it that you begin to share details that could ultimately compromise your safety.
Do not share travel plans, phone numbers, or addresses on social media platforms. In addition to this, it is a good idea to avoid liking the pages of banking institutions you use or other favorite stores as these will provide a direct link for cybercriminals on the lookout for your financial data.
- Stay away from sketchy websites
Always be certain websites you click on are safe and secure. To check whether or not a website is trustworthy, but sure the URL begins with https:// instead of simply http://. The s in this URL is vitally important as it means “secure” and is proof of the site possessing a security certificate. You should also be able to see a padlock icon located to the left of the address.
- Don’t share private information via public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is unsecured, thus putting you at risk of having your data stolen by a hacker.
- Eliminate old, unused accounts
A very simple way you can reduce your digital footprint is by getting rid of any old accounts you have online. This can include dormant social media profiles and newsletters that no longer interest you.
- Use strong passwords
The stronger your passwords, the harder it is for a hacker to discover them. It is recommended that your passwords contain at least 12 characters, some of which should be upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters.
In addition to this, don’t share your passwords with others and be sure to use different passwords for different accounts. Changing your passwords every few months is also a good way to keep your online accounts protected.
Other important considerations to help keep your digital footprint to a minimum are:
- Regularly review your medical records
- Avoid logging into websites with Facebook
- Ensure your software is current
- Regularly assess your mobile use
- Put careful thought into every post
- Act swiftly if a breach occurs
- Consider installing a VPN
Concerned your digital footprint may be putting you at risk? Cooperative Systems can help! Contact us to learn more about how you can minimize your digital footprint and increase your online safety.