Hansel and Gretel left a breadcrumb trail before they got to a witch’s candy house. Just like these siblings from the famous story, we’re leaving a trail of cookies for someone to follow while we’re getting candy for our brains. It doesn’t matter if we’re connecting to a public Wi-Fi, clicking on a link through email, or playing a game. The cookies on our devices know what we’re up to.
In the case of Hansel and Gretel, the breadcrumbs were gone, and they couldn’t find their way back. But in the modern age, once you accept a cookie, it stays on your device until you delete it. Because almost no one deletes their cookies unless they run into a problem, there’s a digital footprint of every action you take. Social media companies, government agencies, marketers, and hackers know what you’re doing at all times.
Since that information can fall into the wrong hands, you can become a victim of fraud or identity theft. If you buy loads of sneakers, a scammer that’s tracking you can send an email with a discount link. When you click and add your information, their phishing attack succeeds, and your bank account gets drained.
There are many variations to phishing attacks, and they can do anything from stealing money to your login credentials or your identity, which is the worst of all three.
Even though it’s impossible to completely conceal your digital footprint, you can do a few things to protect and reduce it. Here are 5 tips for enjoying the internet without someone being on your trail.
Reduce Social Sharing
What used to be the bar, nightclub, park, or any other facility where people gather has transitioned to social media. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook are the places where people hang out and share every single detail about their life. Everyone has that friend who’s always oversharing. Every single thought in the day, every drink they have, and every meal they eat. We can all agree that’s a step too far.
But most people overshare without posting about their meals, thoughts, or drinks. Liking the car brand you drive, the bank you use, healthcare providers, and joining groups related to your interests creates a digital footprint. Cybercriminals can gain insight and target you if you make that information public. Make sure you enable settings that keep your likes and interactions private.
Be Careful When Filling Out Forms
Any submissions you fill out expand your digital footprint. Often, you need to insert your name, email, company data, and demographics when filling out forms. If the company that issued the form gets breached, your data automatically falls into the wrong hands. Think carefully when you need to submit a form to unlock a service or information.
Of course, there is a workaround, which is using a fake name and email. Create a burner account for subscribing to random newsletters and filling out forms. That way, even if there is a breach, your real information will be safe and sound.
Don’t Use Social Logins
Loads of apps or services allow you to log in with Google, Facebook, or Twitter. That’s convenient but incredibly dangerous. Let’s say you connect your Facebook account to a random service. Immediately, they’ll find out everything Meta knows about you.
Just so you know, they’ve got around 52000 data points to track each person. In the case of a breach, a hacker could take control of information, and they’ll know everything about you. Starting with your browsing habits, likes, dislikes, friends, and family, up to your passwords and messages. Like in the previous tip, use a burner email address, or create a main account.
Use A VPN
Every time you visit a website, you share your IP address in exchange for information. An IP address by itself doesn’t mean much. But it can turn into a real problem if a hacker decides to pull that thread. It’s the starting point for your digital identity, and if you’re not using a VPN, they can easily uncover more personal information about you.
For starters, an unprotected IP address helps a hacker find out where you live, all the way to your home address. Furthermore, if they find out you’ve got a website or online business, they can launch DoS attacks. Your online business will become unreachable for new customers because the DoS attack will cause too many requests from bots.
Then, masking themselves as helpful tech support, the hacker will send you a phishing mail with a solution – to click on a link and enter your personal data. In times of distress, this will look like a light at the end of the tunnel, and you’ll share your credit card, passwords, or even your Social Security number.
With a virtual private network, that wouldn’t be possible. VPNs mask your IP address, which means the initial thread to follow you becomes harder to find. They encrypt your data and hide your online traffic from people connected to the same networks. That’s incredibly useful when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
Some VPNs offer additional benefits. A tracker blocker, for example, doesn’t allow cookies to follow you around and gather sensitive data. Malware scanners check whether you’re downloading a virus or a file infected with malicious code.
Delete Old Accounts
The longer you’ve been using the internet, the more old accounts you have. When you forget an old password, it used to be easier to create a new account instead of trying to remember it. That’s why most people have two to three social media accounts on every platform.
But these accounts have lots of sensitive data in them. Especially if you’ve interacted with online stores or banking services, it’s important to delete them completely. Unsubscribing from a newsletter isn’t the same as deleting your entire account. The same thing goes for e-commerce stores where you’ve entered credit card data.
Hansel and Gretel almost got eaten by a witch. But you’ll be targeted by a hacker if you don’t follow these tips to protect and reduce your digital footprint. Delete your old accounts, use a VPN, don’t overshare on social media, and be careful when filling out online forms. Cybercriminals are always looking for the breadcrumb trail. Don’t make it easy for them.