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CHIPS Articles: Protecting your digital footprint

Protecting your digital footprint
By Andrej Stare - April-June 2020
As a large proportion of our IT users are teleworking and using CVR tools, it is important that users are aware of their digital footprint and how to manage and protect it. Neglecting to care for your digital footprint can invite bad actors to steal your identity, gain access to financial accounts, or hack account passwords. A digital footprint is the information about a person that exists on the internet as a result of online their activity.

There are two types of digital footprints: active and passive.

  • Active digital footprints consist of the data you leave when agreeing to install cookies on a device, posting on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) or logging into a work website.
  • Passive digital footprints consist of information you leave behind without intending to or without knowing it. This may include the number of times a user visits a site. Some websites may install cookies on your device without disclosing it. Social media channels and advertisers use your likes, shares, and comments to generate a digital profile of you to target advertisements based on your interests and online activity.

Both active and passive footprints can be tracked and observed in multiple ways and by multiple sources. Tracking your digital footprint and taking steps to control it include:

  1. Enter your name into several search engines - Real estate websites and may have more information about you online than you than realize. Personal information such as your phone number, address, and age tend to show up in searches. You may want to contact the websites involved and request that this information be removed.
  2. Verify your privacy settings - Privacy settings on social media allow you to control who sees your social media posts. Spend some time getting to know these settings so they can be set for maximum privacy.
  3. Create strong, memorable passwords - Create a password that includes a combination of numbers, symbols, and upper and lowercase letters. Avoid using common words, and choices, like birthdays and anniversaries, or the names of your spouse, children or pets.
  4. Keep all software up to date - Many viruses and malware programs are designed to mine your digital footprint. Outdated software could contain a great deal of your digital footprint so it is important to download the latest software updates when they become available.
  5. Review mobile apps used and deleting unneeded apps - Delete apps that you don’t use anymore. Be sure to properly set the privacy or information-sharing settings. Many apps will disclose what kind of information they collect. Personal information such as your email, location, and online activities may be mined by these apps.
  6. It may be impossible to erase your digital footprint, but you can work toward making it a more positive one by avoiding sharing too much personal information online. If there is something distasteful about you online, contact the website’s administrator to request that the information is removed.

    For additional information, the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (DON CIO) website has helpful information on privacy, including a “Guide to Keeping Your Social Media Accounts Secure” -, and resources to keep your identity secure,

    Mr. Andrej Stare is a cybersecurity analyst and the Defense Industrial Board (DIB) and Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) metrics lead in the Navy Cybersecurity Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare. He is currently on a detail to the DON CIO Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) team.

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CHIPS is an official U.S. Navy website sponsored by the Department of the Navy (DON) Chief Information Officer, the Department of Defense Enterprise Software Initiative (ESI) and the DON's ESI Software Product Manager Team at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

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