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How Can You Protect Your Digital Footprint Online?

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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One of the strengths of Indiana is that we bring together a variety of perspectives from the plethora of areas that touch the field of cyber, especially through the colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education throughout our state. Hence the name "Perspectives From the Campus Series”, we invite experts -- immersed in the pursuit of educating their students -- to offer their knowledge for finding solutions in cybersecurity that benefit all Hoosiers.

In the latest installment of this series, David Dungan, who serves as the Executive Director at the Center for Security Services and Cyber Defense at Anderson University, joins in the celebration of Cybersecurity Awareness Month and shares his perspective on how we can protect our digital footprint online.

By David Dungan

From the time we’re born, with every step we take, we create and leave behind a footprint that’s uniquely our own. And it’s no different when we’re online.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the digital world, in which we live, learn, work, and play, we reveal a lot more about ourselves than we might realize and that’s one of the things that cybercriminals are counting on -- when it comes to trying to steal your money or your identity.

In fact, according to a recent report, the number of Hoosier victims of identity theft has nearly doubled in the last five years. If reading that leaves you feeling as though someone is trying to trip you up, consider:

  • Indiana ranks 11th nationally for the greatest rate of increase in identity theft.
  • Incidents in the state increased by more than 94 percent; a rate that’s much higher than the national average of 62 percent.
  • Data from the Federal Trade Commission also shows credit card fraud reports in Indiana increased by more than 122 percent, and bank fraud increased by nearly 158 percent over the same period.
  • Already this year, there have been more than 3,300 reports of identity theft across the state.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take (and resources are out there) to help avoid running into problems when it comes to preventing someone from making it appear as though they’re you.

This is especially true when it comes to social media.

Regardless of the platform you’re on, it’s easier than ever and it’s fun to share tidbits of our lives with the people we care about. It’s that kind of sharing that cybercriminals are looking for, to help themselves to your personal and financial information. Before you post anything, it’s essential to review (and re-read) what you’re saying or sharing and it’s a good idea to get into the practice of using the same precautions when you’re looking through the content that’s on your feed, or any of the sites that you might visit while you’re on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter/X or Facebook.

To stay protected, be sure to check out these social media safety tips from the National Cybersecurity Alliance, including:

  • Prize your personal info
  • Check your settings
  • Enable MFA (multi-factor authentication)
  • Passwords - Think long, strong, and unique
  • Share with care
  • Posts are like ghosts

Additionally, remember that there’s a LOT of personally identifiable information that you’re already sharing -- including your date of birth, your phone number, and your address -- and that’s just the beginning. There’s also references to where you work and all of that is out there, along with the information for your family members and your friends. Don’t forget, too, there’s lots and lots of pictures and videos that you’re in.

Protecting all of that may seem, at times, more than a little overwhelming when you stop and really think about it. But that’s why that when you’re posting anything that you’re mindful of who you’re tagging (and that goes for your accounts, too) and who’s tagging you in their photos, videos, and posts. Among the other things you can do is to disable the cookies on websites that you visit

If you're wondering just how easy it can be to have your accounts compromised, a dedicated cybercriminal may be able to find your location based only on a photo. Moreover, anyone can figure out what kind of house you have, the brands of products you buy, your relative wealth, and more. That’s why it’s also important, in all situations, consider what someone who doesn't like you may do with the information.

One of the other things to consider are the private messages we send. Despite what we might think, private messages are not always just between you and your contact. While they may not be accessible to the general public, companies like Meta (i.e., Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram), Alphabet (i.e., Gmail, Hangouts), Apple, or X/Twitter possess the capability to access your private messages or data on their platforms, and gain information about you from what you're posting.

To learn more, there's a wide range of cybersecurity best practices, free resources and tips from trusted sources, such as CISA, National Cybersecurity Alliance, and the Indiana Cyber Hub.

At the end of day, the path we follow -- as part of our everyday life -- takes us to the experiences and adventures that define us, but if we take just a few precautions, it’ll help make sure that the digital footprints we create and leave behind are genuinely ours.