by Elias Abouzeid
on September 26, 2019
Cyber Security & Data Privacy
In 2017, an Oregon woman struggled with opening utility accounts after moving to a new apartment. She discovered she had a low credit score, even though she always paid her bills on time. Soon, a collection agency called and said she owed cable companies thousands of dollars in Michigan. It turned out that she was part of a data breach, and the compromised information came from a very old email account she hadn't touched in years.
In 2018, Richard Overton, a World War II veteran and the nation’s oldest living man, discovered a “considerable amount” missing from his checking account after a thief used it to purchase savings bonds. He eventually learned that someone had managed to steal his social security number and his checking account number.
Identity theft is not just possible—it’s common. There is a bucket of publicly available data representing your identity stored on all of the websites you visit, and it can be discovered by any individual who knows how to collect it. This is known as Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT).
Although this sounds alarming and makes privacy seem improbable, there are strategies you can implement to use the internet safely and securely—and potentially remove the digital fingerprints you've already left behind.
Someone who collects information about you will generally begin by scraping the internet to find intel. This can start with knowing your name, and then potentially finding your Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn profiles. From there they can utilize what you post—comments, photos, videos, events, and interactions—to build a map of who you interact with professionally and personally. They can also utilize people search engines to gather your home address, phone numbers, history of employment, business records, and tax records.
Even if they don’t have your real name, there are plenty of other starting points they might use:
Having this detailed information about you, depending on their motivation, can lead to several outcomes—some benign, some malicious.
Typical bad actors are interested in:
Over 60 million Americans have had their identity stolen. In digital health as much as physical, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This short list of actions can help you begin reclaiming your digital anonymity:
Erasing your digital footprint is not easy and goes far beyond this discussion. There are professionals who can help you completely disappear from the public eye—so if you’re serious about wiping your online slate clean, you might need their help.
For more basic protection, though, there are a few things you can do on your own to make some progress:
The path to extreme digital privacy is incredibly hard to navigate and requires implementing and maintaining strategic habits. These include big lifestyle changes: watching your actions on traceable networks, keeping your home address private, policing the utilization of mobile devices, altering your employment strategies, purchasing vehicles and houses more cautiously, and developing a path for all payments so they do not lead back to you. It takes a lot of effort to manage it all. But for many, the benefits are worthwhile.
Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world. In today’s always connected culture, we often don’t value privacy until it’s gone—and if your privacy is truly gone, it’s virtually impossible to bring it back.
If nothing else, let this information inspire you to think twice before sharing your true identity all over the internet—and consider implementing the small but effective measures that can bring a sense of privacy and security back into your life.
“You need to know things the others don't know. It's what no one knows about you that allows you to know yourself.” ? Don DeLilloz
Elias Abouzeid is a member of the Calder7 team at Relativity, where he continuously works to enhance the security of the platform.
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