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What is Digital Footprint? How to Protect & Manage Yours

Protect Your Digital Footprint

The importance of managing your digital footprint cannot be overstated in the digital world we now live in. The landscape of online security will continue to present new challenges. Despite the growing number of cyber threats, it’s notable that only about one-third of UK businesses and charities are fully aware of these risks. Alarmingly, smaller businesses seem less engaged in online security than last year, which raises concerns from our point of view as a cyber security-first Managed Service Provider and from the view of the Government and your supply chain. 

This year, nearly a thousand cyber incidents have occurred in the UK, affecting over 5 billion records. Among these, a significant breach at the Electoral Commission compromised 40 million records, highlighting the vast scale of data vulnerability. 

Your digital footprint – the trail of data you leave online – is more important than ever. Every email you send, every transaction you make, and every post you share contributes to this footprint. Unfortunately, many businesses are reducing their focus on essential online security measures, like strong passwords and regular software updates, making it easier for cybercriminals to exploit these digital traces. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a business owner, employee or unemployed. It’s time to take control of your digital footprint. In this blog, we’ll provide practical advice and insights to help you navigate the digital world securely, keeping your online presence safe and your data protected. 

What is digital footprint? 

A digital footprint is the record of your interactions and activities on the internet, and it comes in two forms: active and passive. 

Active Digital Footprint

An active digital footprint consists of the data you knowingly leave online. It includes posting on social media, writing blog comments, or sending emails. Every time you actively share information on the internet, whether it’s uploading photos, commenting on a forum, or updating your status, you’re adding to your active digital footprint. 

Passive Digital Footprint

A passive digital footprint is created when information is collected about you without you actively contributing to it. This can happen when websites collect data about browsing habits, such as the pages you visit or the searches you make. Even if you don’t actively input information, your actions online are often tracked through cookies, IP address logging, and other technologies. This passive data collection contributes to your digital footprint without your direct involvement. 

Both types of digital footprints contribute to your overall online presence and can be used to paint a picture of your preferences, behaviours, and personality. Scary, right?

Digital Footprint Examples

Examples of active and passive digital footprint: 

 Active Digital Footprint Examples: 

  • Social media posts and interactions (likes, shares, comments) 
  • Online reviews and blog comments 
  • Emails and direct messages sent

 

Passive Digital Footprint Examples: 

  • Browsing history recorded by websites 
  • Location data gathered by apps and services 
  • Purchase history on e-commerce sites 

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a tactic cybercriminals use to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. It relies on psychological manipulation, tricking people into breaking standard security procedures. Techniques include phishing, pretexting, baiting, and tailgating, often exploiting human error rather than technical vulnerabilities. The goal is usually to gain unauthorised access to systems, data, or physical locations or to trick victims into making security mistakes.

Active Digital Footprint and Cyber Security Vulnerability

An active digital footprint, which includes data you knowingly leave online, like social media posts or blog comments, can significantly increase your vulnerability to cyber threats. Cybercriminals can use this publicly available information to craft targeted phishing attacks, guess security questions, or impersonate you. For instance, sharing details about your workplace or job role can help attackers tailor phishing emails that appear more credible, thus increasing the likelihood of their success.

Passive Digital Footprint in Social Engineering Attacks

Passive digital footprints, generated by actions like browsing websites or online shopping, can be exploited in social engineering attacks without your direct knowledge. This information can be collected through cookies, IP logging, or other tracking methods. Attackers can analyze this data to understand browsing habits and interests or predict future actions. This insight can be used in pretexting attacks where the attacker creates a fabricated scenario or identity, making their social engineering attempts more convincing and challenging to detect.

Social Engineering – A Vital Part of Cyber Security

Social engineering is crucial for cybercriminals, often central to their strategies. It’s effective because it exploits human psychology rather than relying solely on technical hacking. Cybercriminals can bypass even the most sophisticated security systems by manipulating people into divulging sensitive information or unknowingly granting access. As people are often the weakest link in security chains, social engineering remains a highly successful and low-tech method for attackers to gain unauthorised access, steal data, and commit fraud.

With over 80% of all data breaches coming from human error, it’s time to ensure your business and employees have affordable, interactive and data-driven cyber security training.

How to erase digital footprint? 

Erasing your digital footprint can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to reduce and manage it: 

Delete Old Accounts

Delete any old social media accounts you no longer use. Social media accounts we’ve had for a while may likely contain information from years ago that cyber criminals can use. If you had a dog 10 years ago, and you’re between 20-30, this could be a major clue for criminals guessing your password.

Adjust Privacy Settings

Tighten your privacy settings on active accounts to control who can see your posts and personal information. We highly recommend changing your social media accounts to private or implementing a privacy setting. This gives you control over who can see your social media activity.

Search Yourself

Regularly Google your name to find out what publicly available information about you and take steps to remove it. 

Contact Search Engines

If outdated or irrelevant content appears in search engine results, you can request to have it removed. This process varies depending on the search engine. 

Limit Future Footprints

Moving forward, be more mindful of what you post online. Think before you share, and avoid posting sensitive personal information. 

Regularly Update Security Settings

Keep your security settings and software updated to protect against unauthorised access and data breaches. Major companies such as Apple and Samsung regularly update all the devices sold, so stay on top of your latest updates.

For other devices, such as Windows, it’s important to ensure regular software patches to maximise security protection.

Remove Unwanted Content

For content you can’t delete yourself (like posts on someone else’s social media), you may need to contact the person who posted it or the website’s administrator and request its removal. In addition, you may want to look back at your previous social media accounts for things you may have said. It’s best to spend a couple of hours monitoring the content to ensure everything you’ve said is okay, and you’re happy with potential cyber security criminals browsing through your social media to find the information they need.

Tools such as X’s ‘Advanced Search’ can make reviewing content from previous years easy or allow users to use the option to find specific words.

X, formally Twitter, advanced search function
X, formally Twitter, advanced search function

Conclusion 

In conclusion, carefully managing your digital footprint is crucial for online safety. Everything you do online, from social media posts to browsing websites, can expose you to cyber risks. By being mindful about what you share and how you browse, you can protect yourself from cyber attacks like identity theft or fraud.

If you’re looking to outsource your IT support, services or staff training, Excellence IT can help. We’re a cybersecurity-first focused Managed Service Provider and have helped transform hundreds of businesses for over 20 years.

For more information regarding our IT services or protecting your digital footprint, submit a form at the bottom of this page or email us at marketing@excellence-it.co.uk.

Cookies track your online activities, contributing to your passive digital footprint by collecting data on websites visited, time spent, and preferences.

Educate them on online privacy, monitor their internet use, and adjust privacy settings on devices and social media to protect their digital footprints.

This legal concept allows individuals to request the removal of personal information from search engines and online platforms, potentially reducing their digital footprint.

Active footprints are data you intentionally share online, while passive footprints are collected without your direct input, like browsing history.

Employers may research your online presence, affecting job opportunities based on the professionalism of your digital footprint.

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