The Illusion of Anonymity in the Digital Age
As an internet security consultant I deal with lots of people and companies, on a daily basis, who want to remain anonymous online but can’t figure out how their personal details are freely available on the internet.
The truth of the matter is we’re too careless with our personal details! You don’t need to be a hacker to find out anything about anybody these days – just Google it!
It’s virtually impossible to live ‘off-the-grid’ in our modern wired digital world because somewhere out there your details will be on a database that can be assessed by most with even the basic PC skills. Search engines such as Google are for ever trawling the internet for whatever they can find out about us and have access to millions of databases and websites.
Harvesting of peoples details is big business for firms like Facebook, Google and Yahoo who then sell it on to marketing firms. Also, governments and security agencies use the same techniques to spy on us as has been revealed by organisations like WikiLeaks over the years.
We’re careless with our details when filling in online surveys, entering competitions, requesting information etc. Most of the time these details get passed around and are sold as leads by internet marketing firms. So if you enter a competition, for example, don’t be surprised when you get a deluge of offers from similar companies.
Online social media has become our way of life now and we unwittingly reveal too much about ourselves. Someone harvesting information can build up a profile of someone just by studying their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. It’s that simple – we reveal too much about ourselves – our love lives, family life, wealth etc.
Whilst we can’t disappear off the grid completely (-even though some can!) there are steps we can take to minimize intrusion into our personal lives, preserving our anonymity to an extent.
- Be careful about what you post on social media sites. For instance if you’re going on holiday and post a link on Twitter or Facebook people can burgle your house because they know you’re not in. Also your posts, including pictures, are never really deleted, even when you think they are. They are archived and can be assessed, coming back to haunt you in the future.
- Use recognized sites when shopping online. Always look for the “https” hypertext transfer protocol link and golden padlock at the bottom of the page. If it’s not there it’s not a secured site and your personal financial details can end up anywhere. If possible use a recognized payment processor like PayPal.
- Tick the privacy box when requesting information or entering surveys or competitions. By doing so companies are obliged by law not to pass your details on.
- Be careful about what sites you choose to visit because most sites will send “cookies” - a small piece of data – to your PC that will report back on your usage of their sites.
But most important of all be careful of the information you share online – don’t give out too much! An innocent picture posted on your Facebook page, for instance, can be copied and end up anywhere. Be careful when storing things on virtual ‘cloud’ servers as they are not as secure as people believe they are. Be wary of the apps you download, mostly for your smartphones, and the continual use of them. They are for ever upgrading relaying information about you back to the developers who still control them.
The golden rule I follow is simple; if you don’t want people to know then don’t put it online in the first place. No database or system is that secure that it might not leak out.