Your Digital Footprint
Your online activities leave behind clues that bad actors can use to target you. From your social media profile to your online shopping history, every activity could be used by a bad actor to attack your identity, financial assets, or online accounts.
You Are a Target
Many people share a common misconception that they are too small of a target for cybercrime. Sadly, this is far from true. According to a study conducted by Proofpoint, more than half of Americans experienced at least one of the following attacks in 2021:1
- Email account compromised
- Social media account hacked
- Social media profile spoofed
- Ransomware attack
- Identity theft
- Financial loss due to fraud
A bad actor may target you for any number of reasons, and they may want more than just access to your bank account.
What Is My Digital Footprint?
Your digital footprint refers to your unique set of traceable online activities, such as the information you share on social media and the websites you visit. Just as your physical footprint tells the story of where you have walked, your digital footprint tells the story of what you do online. There are two key components of your digital footprint, your active footprint, and your passive footprint.
Your active footprint is easier to identify, as it is made up of the data that you intentionally share online. This includes things like emails, text messages, social media posts and comments, or forms that you fill out with your information.
Your passive footprint is less conspicuous. This term refers to the digital information tracked and collected about you without your knowledge, such as the number of times you visit a certain website or the IP address of the computer you are using.
In our increasingly digital world, you may be surprised at the trail of information you leave behind. Each time you stream a video, use an app on your smartphone, or talk to one of your smart home devices, a trace of this information is added to your digital footprint.
What Are the Risks?
Think about information that people commonly share on social media. A social media profile often includes a person’s birthday, family members, and schools they have attended, along with other information about their day-to-day life.
Each piece of information alone can seem insignificant, but when combined, this data can be the key to unlocking your online accounts. With information like date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and high school mascot, a bad actor can make educated guesses about your passwords, or the security questions needed to unlock your accounts.
This is just one example of how your digital footprint can be abused by bad actors. Consider the following risks:
- Information contained in your digital footprint could be used to compromise your business, personal, or financial accounts.
- Your digital footprint contains information about your habits and hobbies, enabling a bad actor to target you with customized phishing attacks and scams.
- A bad actor could use the personal details they learn about you in your digital footprint to steal your identity and fraudulently impersonate you.
- Your digital footprint may contain information about your current location, presenting a physical security risk to you and your assets.
The Two of You
Information made available online can be accessed and used to gain access to personal and financial information.
Managing Your Digital Footprint
Your digital footprint expands every time you share information or interact with others online. Consider your social media activities and web browsing, as these common online activities grow both your active and passive footprint.
Social Media Security
A social media presence can contribute heavily to your digital footprint. Social media sites are great ways to connect and share with others; however, they can also be great ways for bad actors to learn about you. Consider the following suggestions when using social media:2
Be mindful of what you share.
Think about the information you share on social media and how comfortable you would be should the wrong person see it. Assume that anything you post online could become public, regardless of the privacy controls you have in place.
Review your privacy settings.
Whenever you create a new social media account or download a new app, review the privacy and security settings, and configure them to your comfort level for information sharing. If a company informs you that they are updating their privacy controls, review the changes and learn if there are new settings you need to enable.
Manage your social network.
Social media sites are great ways to connect and share with others; but the reality is that you cannot see the person behind the profile photo. Bad actors use this anonymity to their advantage by creating fake social media accounts or taking over real ones. Ensure you know who you are sharing with when you communicate online.
Communicate with family and friends.
Even if you personally don’t use social media, know that the content your family and friends post online can add to your digital footprint. Ensure your family and friends know what you would and would not like for them to share about you online.
Use unique, strong passwords.
Visit our Be Cyber Smart page for tips on how to create passwords that are easy for you to remember, but difficult for bad actors to crack.
Secure Web Browsing
There are legitimate reasons why some websites may want to know your information. For example, when you first visit a new website, that site may ask you to accept its “cookies”. These cookies are small files that the website uses to remember information about you, such as your location or search history. Cookies improve your consumer experiencing by tailoring the website to match your preferences.
Think about the ads you see: Have you ever wondered how some sites present you with ads for something you were just searching for? Sites can sell your search history and information to other websites to maximize revenue. There is a lot that can be discovered about you when your online history is aggregated together.
It can be a big threat if this information falls into the wrong hands. Consider the following suggestions when browsing online to help take charge of your information:
Manage your browser’s privacy settings.
Your browser’s privacy settings allow you to see what cookies are on your computer and delete them. You can also decide what type of cookies you want to allow, or allow the site to share with others, and tailor these settings by website. 3
Research who you give your information to.
Even reputable companies get breached. Before sharing information, you should know who owns the company, the controls they have in place to protect you, and what you consent to in the end-user agreement. If you have concerns about information a company collects, do not share your information with them.
Be suspicious of “free”.
Be cautious of free web services or apps who base their business model on collecting data about what you do and who you interact with.4
Disable unnecessary location services.
Consider which websites and applications you allow to access your physical location. If you enable location services for a website, ensure you know how and why your location will be used, and who can see it.
Reducing Your Digital Footprint
It is near impossible to eliminate your digital footprint or stop every organization from collecting information about you; however, consider the following suggestions to help reduce your digital footprint:
Request to remove your personal information from search engines.
Major search engines like Google and Bing offer services to help you remove personally identifiable information, such as personal contact information, confidential login credentials, and bank account information, from their search results.
Remove your information from websites directly.
Removing your information from search results will not remove the information itself from the website. To do this, you will need to contact the owner of the site directly. Many webpages have an “About Us” or “Contacts” section where you can look to find the owner’s contact information.
Delete old accounts.
Even if not in use, old shopping or social media accounts still may store your personal information. Reduce your digital footprint by deactivating your profiles on apps and websites that you no longer use.
Find out if your information has been exposed.
Data breaches often make headlines, but your information can be compromised even if you have not heard about an incident. If a company contacts you regarding a breach, read the details carefully to understand what data of yours was exposed.
Additional Consumer Protection Information
Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed protection against cybercrime. The above tips can help reduce your risk of cyberattack, but this is not an exhaustive list of all cybersecurity best practices. Please remain vigilant and, for more information, review the references below.
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Report Suspicious Activity
If you are a current First American customer, please report any suspicious activity directly to your First American representative through an independently verified telephone number.
If you are not a current customer, be cautious of:
- Phishing emails or websites spoofing First American.
- Unexpected phone calls from someone claiming to be a First American employee.
- Questionable text messages about your First American account or activity.
If you encounter any of the above, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you verify the message or website.
Nothing is too trivial to report. If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of a message from us, please report it.