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Title: "Guarding Your Digital Footprint: The Importance of Online Caution

Updated: Oct 5, 2023


“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”


Ack: "Thanks to American Peter Steiner for the artwork"

The above cartoon by Peter Steiner appeared in the New Yorker, as the World Wide Web became fashionable in the United States. It is that magazine’s most reproduced cartoon ever!


Today’s world is very different to when I was growing up, especially in terms of technology and the multitude of things it allows us to do. Don’t get me wrong, there was some cool tech in my childhood. I remember the first smartphones and was blown away by what they could do. In particular, how easy it was for me to get in touch with my friends and family and to share things with them.

I remember the days when I had to knock on my friend’s door or pop down to the bottom of the road with some change to call someone from the payphone. If I had anything physical I wanted to show them, such as a picture or cool gadget, I had to wait until I saw them in person. More often than not, I would forget or lose interest by then, unless it was something really cool or important.

This resulted in a lot of information not being shared or, on the flip side, gave me a lot to talk about when having a good catch up. That all changed with the emergence of smartphones and other related technology. I was able to show family members, who live halfway across the country, my new certificate in mere seconds! I could relay all the information I wanted with blistering speed and ease to everyone I wanted to.

Furthermore, the development of social media has meant that I don’t even need to speak to people to have a fairly good idea what they are up to, who they are speaking to etc. This has sadly also made it easier for those with nefarious motives to do the same. They don’t have to be physically near you to find out what you’re doing or what your interests are.

In today's hyperconnected world, where sharing our lives online has become second nature, it's crucial to be vigilant about what we reveal on the internet. While social media and other online platforms offer us opportunities to connect, express ourselves, and share our experiences, they also present an open shop window for cybercriminals and hackers. In this article, we will explore the significance of being cautious about what you share online, with a special emphasis on what information hackers can gain from it.


The Digital Age Dilemma

The advent of the digital age has transformed the way we communicate, work, and live. With the tap of a finger, we can share photos, thoughts, and personal information with the world. However, this convenience comes at a price. Every piece of data we post online contributes to our digital footprint, which, if not managed carefully, can become a treasure trove for cybercriminals. 2 billion or more people are also on the Internet at any time.


The Hacker's Playground

Hackers are constantly on the lookout for vulnerabilities and opportunities to exploit them. Your online presence can provide them with valuable information that can be used for malicious purposes. Here are some ways hackers can benefit from the information you share:


1. Personal Information

Hackers can piece together a profile of your life by gathering information from various online sources. Birthdays, addresses, family members' names, and other personal details can be used for identity theft, phishing attacks, or even physical intrusion. A great example of this is the advert where someone scours through a young lady’s posts on social media and looks in the background for the house number and looks at birthday posts for the date and age. Using all this information they apply for some form of credit in her name! This may seem like a far-fetched advert, but it really is not! It was a public information warning. It’s surprising how many people still don’t heed it.


2. Social Engineering

By analysing your social media posts and interactions, hackers can craft convincing phishing emails or messages tailored to your interests, making it more likely that you'll fall victim to their scams. Those who want to be more convincing will spend the time to find out who you talk to or what you talk about, even what you are buying or signed up to, using this to craft a much more convincing attempt to get you to fall for it. For example, if you got a random out of the blue email from a stranger saying “Congratulations, you won a competition for £1000 pounds! Click here…”, you are most likely going to treat it with suspicion. However, if you receive a message from a friend asking you to check out the latest blog from one of your favourite writers who they also happen to like, you are much more likely to click on it. Hackers can use this information to impersonate your friends and get you to click the link.


3. Location Data

Sharing your location in real-time can be dangerous. Hackers can track your movements, making you vulnerable to stalking or theft when you're away from home.


4. Password Clues

Many people use easily guessable passwords based on personal information. This is a big no-no but sadly a lot of people do it, because it makes them easier to remember. However, by learning about your life through your online presence, hackers might be able to guess your passwords or answers to security questions.


5. Financial Information

Indirectly, your online behaviour can reveal information about your financial status which can be exploited for financial fraud.


Safeguarding your Digital Footprint

How can you protect yourself? The government created NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) to help you. Essentially, protecting your online identity starts with a few simple steps:


1. Limit Personal Information

Be mindful of what you share. Avoid posting sensitive personal details such as your home address, phone number, or financial information. Ask yourself, do I need to post this? Would you tell a random stranger where you live or carelessly give out your phone number? If not, then don’t share it needlessly online, it’s effectively the same thing, except visible to a wider audience.


2. Check Privacy Settings

Review and adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts to control who can see your posts and personal information. Carefully consider what you are happy to share and with who.


3. Use Strong Passwords

Create unique and strong passwords for your online accounts. Avoid using easily guessable information, such as birthdays or names of family members or anything that you share online. A good tip is to use three random words with a minimum password length of 12 characters (recommendation used to be 8 – now not sufficient) with some numbers and symbols. Yes, that makes it harder to remember but also a lot more difficult for hackers to guess. Try using a password manager to keep your unique passwords safe.


4. Be Cautious with Location Sharing and “Tagging”

Turn off location-sharing when it's not necessary and be cautious about sharing your exact whereabouts. Always ask yourself, why do people need to know exactly where I am? If there is no need then don’t share it. Also make sure you select the option ‘use in app only’ when prompted, this will prevent your location being shared when not being used. This is easier than remembering to manually turn the permission off. However, if this is not an option, then do remember to turn it off. It is important to remember that location sharing can be used by different technologies for different reasons! For example, GPS is great for apps such as maps, but if left on users of social media apps such as Instagram, WhatsApp etc. could get tracking info. Bluetooth tags are great for navigating other devices, but if Bluetooth is on, others can tag yours in the same way. Other remote technologies such as WIFI, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or cellular networks may also reveal data about your device. It is important to realise when your location is being shared and why.

Tik Tok/Facebook/Twitter users should always be careful what they put up. Also, people tag one another in photos or put out content that may be offensive without a second thought. Be clear! Don’t give people the chance to misunderstand. Keyboard warriors can get very vindictive.


5. Think before you Click:

Before clicking on links or sharing information, verify the source and authenticity to avoid falling victim to phishing scams. Even if it seems a friend has sent it, if you feel it is odd or out of the blue, just double-check, give them a call or message them on another platform to verify. Now I am not saying double-check or second-guess everything, just be vigilant. If it seems out of place don’t take it for granted that it is safe even though it appears a friend has sent it.


6. Regularly Update Software

As always, keep your devices and software up to date with the latest security patches to reduce vulnerabilities. The NCSC recommendation is to so within 14 days!


7. Educate Yourself

This one for me is really key, stay informed about the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices to protect your digital presence. By spending a little time to increase your knowledge about the potential threats out there, it greatly increases your confidence and reduces the likelihood you will fall victim to scams or phishing attempts. A good example of this is the NCSC’s website (which can be found in the useful link section below).


8. Question! (refer to the Steiner cartoon…)

Ask what am I sharing or being asked to share? Who is asking for it and why? Who can see It and what could they do with it? This doesn’t have to be an all-consuming task, just ask the questions.

In conclusion, being careful about what you share online is not just a matter of privacy but also a matter of security. In an age where hackers are constantly seeking opportunities, guarding your digital footprint is essential. You can still easily share with friends and family without sending your mind into overdrive by following some simple steps and staying vigilant. You will be protecting yourself in the process. By following these precautions and remaining vigilant, you can enjoy the benefits of the digital world while keeping your personal information safe from prying eyes and cyber threats.


Useful Links:

Regola takes no responsibility for any websites or services mentioned below. Your interaction with them is at your own discretion.


Password manager recommendations:

Bitwarden: https://bitwarden.com/

1Password: https://1password.com/

Dashlane: https://www.dashlane.com/

Keeper: https://www.keepersecurity.com/

NordPass https://nordpass.com/


NCSC website https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/

Specifically regarding the three random word password recommendation:

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/top-tips-for-staying-secure-online/three-random-words


Other sites that will keep you updated on latest cyber threats

https://thehackernews.com/


What is RFID

https://www.techtarget.com/iotagenda/definition/RFID-radio-frequency-identification

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