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footprints in the sand, representing the digital footprints that you leave behind every day
Posted on July 18, 2017 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

It’s hard to remember a time before our personal information was digitized. However, there was indeed a period in the past when businesses kept hand-written files, people paid with cash or check, and the only way to know how many steps you walked in a day was to count – you didn’t have a “digital footprint.”

Today, that personal information has become “data” and bits and pieces of your identity can be found floating around in databases, clouds, and electronic devices all over the world. You’re not alone, though—it’s happening to all of us. IDC estimates that by 2020, the digital universe—the data we all create and copy annually—will reach 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes, as it continues to double in size every two years.

What Does Your Digital Footprint Look Like?

Imagine you’re planning to go hiking in the woods with a friend, but as you’re driving to meet them, you get a text that says “Got here a little early and decided to start walking. Just find me on the trail after you park.”

How would you find your friend? You would likely get on the trail and start looking for their footprints to follow—knowing that all of the footprints would eventually add up and lead you right to your pal.

That is basically what your digital footprint is. It is made up of all the “breadcrumbs” of personal information you’ve left all over the digital world. Your digital footprint is assembled by combining data from places and things like:

  • Your personal electronic devices, such as mobile phones, laptops, and tablets
  • Smart devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT)—the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects—like your appliances, car, or home thermostat
  • Cloud apps
  • Social networks
  • The company you work for
  • Your favorite retailers
  • Any doctors or other healthcare providers you visit

The digital revolution has completely changed the world and allowed us to share and obtain data like never before. In many, many ways, it has improved life and made basic things in daily life much easier. It has also, however, put our personal information much more at risk. More than 50% of the information in the digital universe that needs protection is not being protected; that includes corporate financial data, medical records, user account information, and more.

Where Identity Thieves Are Following Your Digital Footprints

Identity thieves know about the significant amount of unprotected personal information that’s out there for them to scoop up. Some criminals will just take whatever they can get in an attempt to make some quick cash, but others follow digital footprints and slowly collect bits of information. They know that the more data they can gather on one person, the more they stand to gain in the future if they can create a realistic, robust identity.

Identity thieves will steal personal information from anywhere they can, but there are a few types of accounts that Pew Research Center has categorized as “high value” accounts that could contain especially sensitive information.

  • Banks or financial service providers: 55% of Americans report having an online account with banks or other financial service providers.
  • Household utility providers: 36% say they have created online accounts with one or more of their household utility providers, like the electric company or the cable company.
  • Healthcare providers: 32% of individuals have an online account with their healthcare providers.
  • Online accounts that involve bill payments or transactions: 39% have some other kind of online account that allows them to make payments or spend money.

In addition to these high-value accounts, some more sophisticated thieves are keeping their eyes on the various “smart” devices that are being introduced to the market—wearable devices, smart cars, Amazon Echo, and Nest home devices to name just a few. These smart devices monitor your behavior and “learn” about your daily habits and preferences, and their reach is growing. By 2022, 10% of the world’s population will be wearing clothes connected to the Internet and 10% of reading glasses will be connected by 2023.

Smart devices have the potential to make our lives easier and more productive, but we also must be aware of the sheer amount of information they may contain about our lives—and the possibility that anyone could hack into them. With over 20 billion IoT devices estimated to be online by 2020, they will become the top source for vulnerability and hacks related to cloud attacks.

As the world becomes more and more digitally connected, it’s practically impossible not to have some kind of digital footprint. However, you do still have some power when it comes to how big that footprint is and how well-protected the information contained within can be. Try to make smart decisions about who you share your personal information with, the online accounts you sign up for, and the passwords you create.

Stay Informed: Download New eBook

Want to learn more about how your digital world creates your footprint? Download our new eBook, Protecting What Matters Most: Insights, Trends, and Perspectives on Protecting Your Digital World, featuring over 50 research and industry reports, along with some of IdentityForce’s own primary research—all within just 6 pages.

an ebook about your digital footprint