Every tweet, text, bank transaction, Google search and DoorDash order is part of your digital shadow. We all have one, and the contents of your shadow aren’t always private. For example, in April 2021 attackers leaked data containing the personal information of over 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries.

Sure, you might want your tweet to be seen all over the world. But what about your phone number, social media name, full name, location, birthdate and email address? How conscious are you of your digital exposure? And how do employee digital shadows affect the companies they work for?

What is a digital shadow?

Anything you post or capture in digital format is technically part of your digital shadow or digital footprint. It’s obvious that social media posts and tweets are parts of your digital shadow, but you might be surprised about other elements. For instance, texts leave a digital trail as well. You can even read someone’s text messages without access to their phone.

Think your photos are safe in Google Drive? While Google’s security is certainly robust, if someone steals your credentials, they could log in and see all your files. Even your bank transactions and social security number could be leaked. Any type of communication or information sent or saved using a digital device could end up in the wrong hands.

How long of a digital shadow do you cast?

In 2020, over 3.6 billion people were using social media worldwide. This number is projected to increase to almost 4.41 billion in 2025. People post all kinds of information about their lives and work online.

Unfortunately, all this data can be used for nefarious purposes. For example, you might get an invite from a threat actor mimicking a close contact. After accepting the invite, they have access to all the information you share online. By using social engineering techniques, they can then trick you to click on malicious links or downloading malware.

Other criminals will impersonate executives. They deceive employees or business partners into giving up sensitive information or making unauthorized financial transactions. The more information you post online, the more information threat actors can leverage against you.

Diverse social engineering schemes

Social engineering has become one of the leading types of cyber crime. One of the reasons is the diversity of social engineering methods. For example, phishing might be considered a type of social engineering as fake emails attempt to mimic trusted sources.

Meanwhile, thread-jacking (or thread hijacking) is a particularly nasty form of phishing since it hijacks email messages that are part of an ongoing thread. Broad damage occurs as the attacker sends emails to targets within the affected organization and beyond. This strategy can lead to a highly infectious spread of malware since the level of trust is high within email threads.

The social engineering varieties go on and on. Recruitment fraud, for example, involves the offer of fictitious job opportunities through unsolicited emails, online recruitment services, bogus websites and text messages claiming to be job recruiters. These scams are much more effective if the actor knows something about you and your preferences.

Data is the most valuable asset

Data (especially personal data) has tremendous value. This doesn’t apply only to darknet markets that deal in stolen data. There’s a reason companies pay massive sums to collect data about their customers and visitors. And evidence shows an increasing number of people browse with cookies enabled, which keeps the data flow going strong.

The more a company (or a criminal) knows about you, the better chance they have of making money (or stealing) from you. Here the techniques used by marketers overlap with those of cyber criminals using the same tools.

Powered with AI, phishing messages can be highly personalized to target employees or individual executives. This type of hyper-personalization has long been used in digital marketing to capture more business. We’ve all received personalized emails from marketing engines. And now, criminals use the same tactics with data harvested from your digital shadow.

Like gold, data is a commodity with a market value. And this value applies to both legitimate markets and dark markets.

How to minimize your digital footprint

The truly best way to minimize your digital exposure is to spend less time online. Still, there are other ways to reduce your digital footprint without going off-grid. For business owners, team awareness is essential. For example, social media hygiene goes a long way. Some tips include:

  • Examine every friend request with the highest scrutiny. If it’s a close friend or associate, consider confirming the invite through a secure channel.
  • Do not post images of your workplace. If you take a photo at happy hour, make sure to remove your employee ID badge.
  • Never download files or click on links transmitted by social media messages. If you must search for the site on a web browser. Be aware that you could be visiting a fake website as well.
  • Don’t ever share sensitive information on social media chats.

Other ways to reduce your digital footprint include:

  • Delete old shopping, social media and email accounts
  • Review your social media privacy settings; only share with close contacts
  • When you don’t need GPS support, disable location tracking
  • Conduct searches in incognito mode or from a private browser, such as Apple Safari, Avast Secure, Brave Privacy, Bromite or DuckDuckGo.

Trust no one. Secure everything.

While employee training is part of any strong security plan, human error is inevitable. With the growing number of devices (including Internet of Things), every company’s attack surface increases every day. While attempts to manage digital shadows are helpful, digital expansion is too fast to keep up with on our own.

The vulnerability of data combined with rising attack rates generates substantial downside risk. Effective security tools aren’t an option anymore. The good news is that security teams can enforce rules according to the who, what, where and when surrounding access to sensitive data.

For example, zero trust models demand verification for each and every connection and endpoint. From there, every request for access is granted the least amount of privilege. With zero trust, resources are restricted by default, even for connections inside the perimeter.

The only way to face rising threats, without living in the woods, is through a multi-pronged approach. Modify behavior, stay alert and protect your assets with the best tools available.

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