Have you ever wondered how businesses, websites and platforms know so much about you? Online trackers can follow your digital footprint to collect more information about you and your browsing habits. As you browse the web and visit different websites and social media platforms, you leave a digital trail known as a digital footprint, digital shadow, or electronic footprint.
We’ll be looking at digital footprinting and what it means for your cybersecurity. Then we’ll also look at how to protect your electronic footprints from cybercriminals. Some of the measures include using a SERP scraper API to monitor search results and using proxies and private browsers.
In this article, we’ll be covering the following topics related to digital footprinting:
- What is digital footprinting?
- Why are digital fingerprints so important?
- How to protect your digital footprint?
What Is Digital Footprinting?
You leave behind a digital footprint whenever you visit websites or social media platforms. Hackers and other online trackers can then trace these footprints to see where you’ve been, what sites you visit, etc. In cybersecurity circles, electronic footprinting usually refers to the pre-attack or information gathering phase. This is because footprinting allows hackers to gain information on the individual, systems used and more before launching the attack.
There are two types of digital footprinting, active and passive.
Active Digital Footprint
An active digital footprint is left when users deliberately share information about themselves. This means that any situation where users create or log in to an account, create or share a post, fill in online forms and even accepting cookies leaves an active electronic footprint.
Passive Digital Footprint
Passive footprints are left without the user necessarily being aware. These footprints can be left when websites check how many times users visit, where they’re visiting from, their IP address and more. Social networking sites that track your likes, shares and the posts you interact with can also be seen as a passive electronic footprint.
Why Are Digital Footprints Important?
It is important to be aware of your digital footprint as it can cause major security and privacy concerns if you don’t. Here are a few reasons why electronic footprints matter:
- Digital footprints are permanent.
- Your electronic footprint is directly linked to your reputation.
- Employers can check potential employees’ digital footprint (such as social media pages, etc.) before hiring.
- Words and photos posted online can be misinterpreted or altered.
- Information shared privately can spread to the public and cause harm.
- Cybercriminals can use your electronic footprint in phishing attacks or identity theft.
How To Protect Your Digital Footprint?
Protecting your digital footprint is essential in protecting your online security, privacy, personal data and social reputation. Here are a few measures that you can take to protect your electronic footprint.
Check Search Engines
Monitor your digital footprint by searching your name (including nicknames and other variations) in different search engines. This is a quick and easy way to see what others will see when checking your digital footprint. To simplify the process, you can also use a SERP API that collects all mentions of your name from search engines and compiles the information into a single format that you can check. These SERP APIs make it very easy to collect information from search results and work especially well when checking search engines for your digital footprint.
Use Private Browsers
Private browsers such as Tor and DuckDuckGo are also great options to browse the web without leaving a trail that can be tracked. Tor browser specifically leaves no digital footprint, making it impossible for hackers and trackers to track an online activity back to you.
Hide Your IP Address
Your IP address is one of the easiest ways to be tracked, and it’s one of the biggest digital footprints you can leave. Hiding or disguising your IP address by using a proxy or VPN is one of the best ways to cover up your digital footprint. Many SERP API providers will include a proxy in their offering, and if they don’t, look for a provider that does, as it is very useful.
Check Your Privacy Settings
Frequently double-check your privacy settings on the various social media platforms and ensure that they are all set to private. Remember, public data can be collected and tracked, but data set as private is better protected.
Delete Old Accounts
Make sure to delete any old accounts that you no longer use. Do you remember those rebellious years when you posted naive comments and views? Those can still be used against you, but you can start clearing these footprints by deleting old accounts. Although it’s important to note that once you’ve posted something online, it can never be removed completely.
Create Strong Passwords And Unique Accounts
When creating accounts, always create a brand new one with a unique username and a strong password. Strong passwords are long and contain letters (a mixture of small caps and large caps), numbers and symbols. Never use the same password across multiple accounts and create a new one for each account. Also, make sure to update and change your passwords frequently. While it may be tempting to use the ‘Sign in with Facebook’ or ‘Sign in with Google’ options, these are more ways that you spread your digital footprint. It’s best to create a new unrelated account to protect your digital footprint from cybercriminals.
Digital footprinting is an easy way for businesses and hackers to track you. Many hackers start the process of launching an attack by first collecting data through digital footprinting. As such, it’s more important than ever for us to be aware of what we do online. We can also put measures in place, such as using SERP APIs to monitor our digital footprint alongside proxies and private browsers to hide future footprints.