Have you ever searched for yourself online? Most people may be surprised by the sheer volume of information they can find on themselves with a simple search.

That’s because everything we do on the internet leaves some form of digital footprint. And those footprints may provide far more information for those tracking us than most of us would willingly share.

Who might be tracking your digital footprints?

Friends and family might track you out of curiosity.

Companies might track you to build a profile on you. The deeper and fuller those profiles are, the easier it is for them to target their marketing to you.

Employers might track you to make human resources decisions. What they find out could potentially affect hiring, assignments, and promotions.

Cybercriminals might track you for a variety of reasons. They could be trying to gain access to your finances, to your workplace systems, or to commit synthetic identity or new account fraud.

And governments may or may not track you for certain activities, too.

Your personal data exposed

A simple search can often reveal information such as:

  •  Your email

  •  Your home address

  •  Your phone number

  •  Your social media accounts

  •  Your employer

  •  Your picture

Personal information like this can be found online in many places. Companies can use this information to fill in holes in their databases. Suppose you declined to give your home address on a submission form. But the company wants that demographic information to improve the accuracy of their reporting, so they do a quick search and easily find the missing address. 

Cybercriminals can use this information as the foundation for fraudulent activities. They might start with just one piece of information, such as your email address. But once they use that to find your home address, phone number, and social media accounts, they might use what they find to open new accounts, or phish for access to your financial accounts or employer’s systems.

What social media reveals

Social media is one of the biggest contributors to our digital footprints. We use social media like conversation, but there are two very important differences: social media conversations are seen by many and they never go away. You can delete a post from your feed, but you can’t stop someone else from saving or reposting it. Once you’ve put something out there, it’s often there to stay.

If your social media activity is too exposed to the browsing of strangers, you could be an easier target for online fraud. The depth of your social media profile could tell a cybercriminal not only which accounts to phish, but also give them clues on how to do it. Or they could create synthetic identities based on your data, such as matching a social security number they’ve hacked to your work history.

What the dark web provides to cybercriminals

On the dark web, your digital footprint can lead cybercriminals to places you’ve never shared. Places such as your websites visited, your search histories, and your downloads could all be posted or up for sale. Hackers can retrieve this data by hacking you directly, by breaching your workplace, or by breaching your service provider.

While your personal information and social media accounts are mostly in the public domain, the dark web can provide cybercriminals with these illegally-sourced portions of your digital footprint.

Your browser history, for example, could be used to create fake sites for phishing attempts. Your downloads could lead to an email offering an urgent “update” — one with malware attached.

Make sure your digital footprint leads where you want followers to go

While you may not have control over every mention of yourself online, you do have the most impact on what a searcher will find. For cleaning up and reducing your existing digital footprint, we offer several easy-to-follow tips here.

And for breaches and exploitations on the dark web, your best bet may be an identity theft protection program with full remediation and reimbursement benefits [link to reimbursement article once published].

Most importantly, ask yourself where does your digital footprint lead? And what could cybercriminals do with your footprint if they got a hold of it?

As an HR professional, you also get to ask these same questions of your employees. By helping them redefine their own digital footprints, you can also help protect them from online fraud.