Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



How Big is Your Digital Footprint Anyway?

Those of us at a certain age (ahem) grew up in a simpler time. Email was largely unheard of. There was no social media, no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. There was no e-commerce, no Amazon, Alibaba or Taobao. No online banking. No online dating. Credit card transactions were processed manually. Local businesses accepted personal checks. 

Those of us at a certain age (ahem) grew up in a simpler time. Email was largely unheard of. There was no social media, no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. There was no e-commerce, no Amazon, Alibaba or Taobao. No online banking. No online dating. Credit card transactions were processed manually. Local businesses accepted personal checks. 

In short, there really wasn’t any such thing as a “digital footprint,” where personal information resides virtually, in an electronic ether, potentially available for anyone to see. 

But over the last two decades, we’ve moved more and more of our lives into that realm. And almost as soon as we began, people attempted to gain inappropriate access to information of all kinds. 

Today we are still adjusting to this new reality. With each new service that comes online, we move more of our lives, more of ourselves, into the digital world. Our digital footprints roam farther and wider. 

And at this point,  there have been so many high-profile breaches that a person’s entire life could be laid out, triangulated and, ultimately, faked by someone with the wrong set of intentions. 

Let’s just say, hypothetically, you were affected by not one, but all of the following:

In 2006, a laptop was stolen from an analyst working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Information potentially up for grabs included your name, your spouse’s name, social security numbers and a disability rating with medical information about an injury you suffered during your time in the service. Now someone could not only forge your financial identity, but they also know personally identifying medical information about you. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Later that year, your first tried and true internet service provider, America Online, accidentally published your entire search history along with an anonymized user ID. The release came in the form of a searchable database, meaning that search histories could be correlated by user. 

Your inquiries about travel destinations, classes you were considering, local eateries, income tax laws and many other things could be used to present a pretty convincing picture of who you are and what you were doing at the time. If any of that information was compromising, it could have been used against you in a variety of ways. 

In 2010, your user account at was compromised, making available a long string of heated political comments you thought you were making anonymously. Now someone could have an accurate gauge of your opinions they could use to target you in phishing attacks or for political purposes. 

In 2014, your Gmail account was compromised and posted to a Russian Bitcoin forum. For a short period of time, anyone who wanted to could log into your account, read all of the email history stored there, send bogus emails in your name, or even change the password and lock you out long enough to sign up for new accounts, or to change other passwords for online retail accounts and gain control of those. 

Then in 2017, the major credit reporting bureau Equifax was breached. You were one of 143 million people whose entire credit and payment history was exposed. Now someone could have enough information about you to take out loans and conduct business in your name. 

And of course, most recently, social media giant Facebook was breached just this past September. After the intrusion was detected, it took Facebook 11 days to eliminate the threat. In the meantime, at least 50 million users were compromised, the hackers having full view and potentially control of their accounts. 

All of your vacations, locations and accomplishments could have been exposed. All of your friends, acquaintances and family members identified. Unseemly events from your past could be dug up, or even faked and planted there for others to see. As of now, Facebook is still trying to understand what the hackers were after. 

Each of these digital repositories contained information that was deeply personal. In an age when we’re seeing increased deception online, how could this information be used? How will the nature of fraud, blackmail and cybercrime evolve as a result of criminals possessing such detail about their targeted victims? How could this affect job searches, security clearances, or appointments to public office? Will we have to change our standards in some way for a new generation whose online personas have existed their entire lives? 

Time will tell. But there’s no denying our expanding digital footprints are changing the nature of both personal and organizational security. Monitoring and managing our online personas has become an essential task, like keeping track of our credit score. 

But at least for some of you of a certain age, there is a small sigh of relief—that kegstand you did in college never got posted online.   

Written By

Click to comment

Daily Briefing Newsletter

Subscribe to the SecurityWeek Email Briefing to stay informed on the latest threats, trends, and technology, along with insightful columns from industry experts.

Join security experts as they discuss ZTNA’s untapped potential to both reduce cyber risk and empower the business.


Join Microsoft and Finite State for a webinar that will introduce a new strategy for securing the software supply chain.


Expert Insights

Related Content


The changing nature of what we still generally call ransomware will continue through 2023, driven by three primary conditions.


As it evolves, web3 will contain and increase all the security issues of web2 – and perhaps add a few more.


A recently disclosed vBulletin vulnerability, which had a zero-day status for roughly two days last week, was exploited in a hacker attack targeting the...


Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus Group informed some customers last week that their online accounts had been breached by hackers.


Zendesk is informing customers about a data breach that started with an SMS phishing campaign targeting the company’s employees.


Satellite TV giant Dish Network confirmed that a recent outage was the result of a cyberattack and admitted that data was stolen.

Artificial Intelligence

The release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in late 2022 has demonstrated the potential of AI for both good and bad.


A new study by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) named a staggering figure as the true annual cost of...