Digital footprintsAlmost everyone and every business have a digital footprint, so learn how you can better manage it.

There are eyes and ears everywhere, and the internet is no exception. Your online activities – what you say and do on the internet, including the deleted ones – can be traced and added to a collection of data known as a digital footprint. Essentially a digital reputation of who you are online, your digital footprint can be accessed and used by complete strangers with malicious intents to cause harm.

Personal digital footprints

An individual’s digital footprint is often categorised into two main types: passive and active.

Passive digital footprint refers to information recorded without the user’s knowledge; it is often harvested in the background of normal activities. For example, when a user accesses a database and inputs a username, several other pieces of data are automatically collected without their knowledge, including IP address, operating system and browser choice. Passive data is not publicly searchable, and so while it can be unsettling to know this information is being collected, it poses relatively little threat to your daily operations.

Active digital footprint consists of publicly searchable information that you have shared, such as social media posts (including deleted ones), comments, and photos that you were tagged (even if you didn’t want them online). Active digital footprint matters because once the information is online, it is quite challenging to remove. Worryingly, your social media likes and preferences are psychological data that allow strangers to build a complete profile of you. More dangerously, once the information is in the wrong hands, it can set-off a series of unwelcoming events like identity fraud and blackmailing.

At Blackhawk Intelligence, our investigators have seen high-profile individuals falling victims to fraud or being blackmailed because cyber criminals thousands of miles away decided to steal from them, use their identity to commit crimes or to blackmail them for personal gain.

In some cases, what the individuals have said or done online become permanent records that turn out to mar their lives and damage their careers. High-flyers were fired or forced to resign and there have been quite a few examples. In 2018, James Gunn, the writer and director of the Guardians of the Galaxy film series was fired by Disney over old and deleted tweets about paedophilia and rape. In 2019, comedian Danny Baker was fired by the BBC for a tweet that he sent about Prince Harry’s new baby. The list goes on.

Businesses have vast digital footprints too

It must be said that the risks of digital footprint do not just confine to individuals. We have seen cases when reckless employees create a digital footprint that allows fraudsters to launch cyber-attacks targeted at a company or a brand’s followers and loyal customers, as well as causing damage to the company’s reputation.

In recent years, there has been an increase in cyber criminals creating fake websites and fake accounts that appear to represent your company. In one of the cases, cyber criminals copied the entire site of a UK brand and published it in another country, tricking businesses in the country into believing that the UK brand was there to do business with them. Once money had been transferred, the fraudsters took down the site, leaving local businesses out of money and the UK brand suffered significant reputational damage.

How businesses can promote a better digital footprint

1. Constant monitoring

Most companies today have a small team of employees looking after the digital realm. They monitor negative online reviews and unflattering social media mentions. However, not every company has the capacity to clean up ancient comments and old web content that are no longer correct or relevant. If you believe in promoting a positive digital footprint, it is worth looking into old data, not just the current ones.

2. Use of Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Virtual Private Network is an ideal tool that helps to safeguard online privacy and security. By establishing a secure connection between your computer and a point on the internet, VPN allows you to browse the internet using the point’s internet connection (instead of your own).

3. Have an effective training program

Train your employees about digital footprints and how dangerous they can be if they are being misused. Employees who have access to sensitive data should also be careful about what they say and do online.

4. Make sure you are in compliance with GDPR

If your company stores digital footprints of individuals, then you know that keeping the data safe and secure is a top priority. From time to time, it is worth getting a third-party to review your internal processes and make sure they comply with GDPR.

5. Engage a digital fraud specialist if something bad has happened

Once cyber criminals and fraudsters get hold of sensitive data gathered from your digital footprints, they can strike at any time. If something undesirable has happened, contact the digital fraud specialists at Blackhawk Intelligence. Our specialists work hard to protect businesses from fraud and cyber-crime.

To find out how to protect yourself from digital threats, give us a call on +44 (0)20 8108 9317 or fill out our Online Form.

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This post is intended to provide information of general interest about current business issues. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances.