How to safely manage your digital footprint

Your digital footprint encompasses all traces of your online activity, from comments you leave on social media posts, subscriptions to email newsletters, or purchases you make online. Any device that you use to browse the web will contribute to your digital footprint – whether that’s a work PC, your personal laptop, a smartphone or tablet device. 

Understanding the impact of your digital footprint is an important part of protecting your data, preventing identity theft, and maintaining your reputation both personally and professionally. Managing your digital footprint also means you’ll be aware of the information that’s publicly available to potential employers, educational institutions, creditors and other third parties.

In 2021, having a digital footprint of some type is inevitable. However there are steps you can take to be more responsible for the traces you leave online. One way to achieve this is to categorise the activities related to your digital footprint as either ‘active’ or ‘passive’. Let’s weigh up the differences below.

Passive vs Active Digital Footprints

‘Passive’ digital footprints are those traces you leave behind without intending to. Examples may include websites that install cookies on your computer, apps that track your geographical location, or content that you ‘like’ and engage with on social media platforms. In many cases, you may not even be aware of the passive trail your online activity has created, especially as Internet use has become such a ubiquitous part of everyday life. 

In contrast, ‘active’ digital footprints are those activities that you are consciously aware of. Choosing to post an update to your personal LinkedIn account is one example. Completing an online form and providing your personal information is another. In a work context, the emails you send, files you access, and workflow you track online all form part of your active digital footprint.

It’s valuable to note that both passive and active digital footprints can be monitored by various stakeholders. Some of these stakeholders we have already mentioned – they include employers, schools or banks. However, law enforcement, government departments and even the media may also choose to investigate a particular person’s digital footprint. For this reason, digital footprints are often associated with both our identity and reputation as individuals and the organisations we represent.

Organisational Digital Footprints 

It’s valuable to note that organisations can have digital footprints, too. Like an individual, an organisation’s digital footprint extends to anything an enterprise does online, including customer communications, business transactions, advertising and marketing materials, and much more. 

To add complexity, your organisation’s digital footprint also encompasses anything that individual employees publish or share using company resources. For these reasons, an organisational digital footprint can be vast, and will often require appropriate information management, data governance and privacy policies to be established, monitored and enforced .To gain a greater understanding of your organisation’s digital footprint and how to manage it effectively, speak with a cybersecurity consultant.

Managing Your Digital Footprint

As you can see, being conscious of your digital footprint plays a role in protecting yourself, your business, and your community online. Now that we understand the significance of a personal digital footprint, let’s take a closer look at how to manage it. 

The first step to taking control of your digital footprint is to perform a quick Google search for your own name. For the most accurate and complete search results, it’s worthwhile adding both your name and location, along with any past variations of your name. 

Take the time to review the results and ask yourself whether your digital footprint showcases your best qualities. Do you seem professional and reputable? Would you want prospective employers or clients to see what information is available about you online? Would you feel comfortable with photos from your past being shared with other parties? Does your past social media activity reflect the person you are today?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, it’s worthwhile doing some digital housekeeping. Firstly, archive any problematic photos or posts visible via social media. For content that may appear on other websites, contact the relevant site administrator and request a deletion.

Protecting Your Data

After you’ve tidied your digital footprint to date, it’s worth taking steps to protect your data moving forward. Conduct a thorough audit of the privacy settings you have on various social media platforms. Take the time to understand and customise these settings to suit your own needs. 

For instance, do you want to limit who can view your photos, friend lists or page likes on Facebook? Do you wish to create custom friend lists to have greater control about who sees your posts? It’s prudent to check your privacy settings regularly, as websites and social media platforms frequently change their protocols and terms of service.

Another recommendation for staying safe online is to subscribe to a password management platform that both generates and stores your password information securely. An effective password contains a combination of words, numbers, symbols, along with upper and lower case letters that cannot be easily guessed. Avoid using passwords that can be easily connected to you, such as the name of your pet, your birthday, hometown and so forth.

Staying Safe Online

Did you know that viruses and malware are frequently designed to capture information from your digital footprint? For example, the recent ‘flu-bot scam’ sent text messages to millions of Australians in an attempt to attain credit card details, browsing histories, and other personal information lifted from users’ digital footprints. In fact, the worldwide COVID pandemic has seen a surge in the volume of malware attacks, especially as more of us carry out daily transactions online.

To help protect yourself against scams of this type, ensure the software you use on your PC, laptop or mobile device is up-to-date. Outdated software is at greater risk of malware attacks and other cybersecurity breaches. Apply two-factor authentication for all accounts, including your emails and social media. Ensure that your Wifi connection is private and secure. 

We also recommend using the security features on your mobile device to further protect your data. Set a passcode, lock pattern, or facial recognition protocol so that information on your smartphone cannot be exploited if you ever lose it. Regularly audit the apps on your mobile devices, and check which applications have access to your Contacts, Calendar, Emails, Photos and other collateral that make up your digital footprint. If you’re no longer using an app, delete it from your device.

The above steps can be described as maintaining your ‘digital hygiene’. Good digital hygiene minimises your cybersecurity risks, and helps guard against malicious attacks, phishing, hacking, and other forms of online identity theft. In today’s distributed workplace where working from home – or anywhere – blends your personal digital hygiene with your corporate presence and access, you need to be mindful that you are not exposing yourself or the organisation you work for to cyber risks.

Speak with a cybersecurity consultant if your workplace needs assistance with managing the security of your digitally engaged and distributed workforce.

Final Remarks 

A good rule of thumb is never to say or do something online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing offline. This will ensure you feel more comfortable with the way your digital footprint portrays you. Content that is abusive, defamatory, illegal or offensive should always be avoided. Likewise, sharing denigrating posts about your job or employer can put you at risk career-wise. Consider the content that you share online carefully, and ensure that you are adhering to the relevant privacy, confidentiality and data governance policies that you are bound by in your organisation and legal environment.Focus on building a digital footprint that is a positive representation of yourself and the organisation and communities you are part of.

For more information about managing your organisation’s digital footprint as an individual or organisation, chat to a cybersecurity consultant with Business Aspect. Our team has the knowledge and experience to provide you with tailored solutions that suit your unique requirements.