AdGuard Blog: When less is more: How the oversharing epidemic gave rise to digital identity theft

Gandalf_The_Grey

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Apr 24, 2016
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Since the advent of the digital age, we've been slowly but surely hooked on online services. Hardly an hour goes by without us doing something online: whether it's liking a post on social media, shopping, ordering an Uber, watching Netflix, swiping on Tinder, transferring money or accessing a remote desktop. The names of the companies and the things we do may vary — perhaps, you're more into online trading than shopping and prefer gaming to binge-watching shows — but the fact remains: we have all grown our distinct digital identities that may or may not correspond to our real selves.

We entrust some of the information to the care of governments and private companies. We knowingly and unknowingly share our data with tech giants, who track our digital footprint via increasingly sophisticated tools. That information also becomes part of our digital identity.

One man has famously said, data is the new oil, and another less famously argued that it was rather the new nuclear power to the extent it can be weaponized to cause harm. In a world where everything can be bought and sold, a person's complete digital life — digital identity — has become a hot commodity. If stolen and abused, it may bring its real prototype down.
How to decrease the risks

You cannot unplug yourself from the world, but you can shrink your digital footprint and at least make criminals work hard if they want to lay their hands on your digital identity.
  • Share less on social media — the internet never forgets. Even if you remove the post afterwards, it can still be screenshotted or retrieved through web archives. Resist the urge to share your purchases and information about your loved ones or where you live. Be mindful when geotagging photos and tagging others in them.
  • Do not upload copies of your ID documents, such as passports, drivers licenses to your social media accounts. Do not send your documents, especially your selfie with an ID card, to random third party services “for identity verification” unless absolutely necessary.
  • Carefully study privacy policy before participating in an online survey or a questionnaire and find out what your answers can be used for. If no such policy exists, then it’s better to forgo that survey altogether. Even if the privacy policy does not contain any red flags, the pollster can leak the data anyway. So the fewer questionnaires you take, the safer you are.
  • Be wary of "too good to be true" discounts and generous giveaways offered by well-known companies. Make sure you are not on a phishing site, and contact a representative of the company to verify the campaign if you're in doubt.
  • Allow only those cookies that are essential to the functionality of the website if you don’t want advertisers to track you across the web and bombard you with ads.
  • Use ad blockers that are trustworthy and have not been caught red-handed leaking data. You can also switch to a privacy-focused browser, use a VPN or a DNS server.
  • Set strong passwords that are not reused across your other accounts or devices, and use password managers.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication where possible — it will help protect you from unsophisticated hackers.
  • Install and timely update antivirus software, make sure you have enough space in your device for the updates.
  • Give your apps only the most necessary permissions
As for the documents that we have to email our employers, professors, insurers and others online, make sure you send them via an encrypted email service and that your mail is password-protected.