This is the third article in a four-part series this month celebrating National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Click here for last week's article, Cybersecurity in the Workplace is Everyone's Business.

When is the last time you looked for your name on the internet? Which of the links and images are tied to you? More importantly, where does all this information come from?

The answer is two-fold. First, there is more information then you may think that gets tracked and recorded even if you are not buying something online, providing your name/email address/PII, etc. and that is the part of “digital footprint” that’s important. Activities like buying a car or house, getting a loan, get married or divorced, having a baby, or even receiving a parking ticket or citation from your deed-restricted subdivision, can all add to your digital footprint without your knowledge or consent.

Then, the rest of what’s publicly made available came from you! Your habits and preferences captured by your devices as well as public and private data about you being digitalized by medical providers, retailers, and governmental institutions.

Think about your average day. Where do you read your news? How many social media sites do you frequent? What types of items do you view or buy from the internet? What do you watch on tv or listen to via a streaming music service? What do you pay for with a means other than cash? What rewards clubs do you subscribe too? Do you track your exercise or sleep/eating habits? Do you use a map or other GPS app? Do you have a “smart” or connected home? Can you control any devices including your car, alarm system, music, or thermostat with your smartphone? Before you signed up for these services and bought the associated products, did you read the privacy disclosures and opt out for the data you did not want to share? Even if you did, are you aware of the data usage rights you are handing over just by becoming a customer, subscriber, or free user?  “Opt out” may not mean what you think it means.

So much of our PII and personal habits are tracked passively as we go about our daily lives, often without our knowing it. Your IP address, geographic location (even if you’ve turned off location services, your approximate location), and how you navigate on a single domain is tracked as you surf the web, and this information can be used, shared, or sold to third-parties without your knowledge (or consent, in some cases). Your ISP or phone carrier can track cross domains to track your patterns and habits as you use apps and services, navigate the web, and just generally go about your day. To date, the US has no laws or regulations that say they cannot use these data, even when you, the data owner, is not aware,

Looking at all of this, it becomes a scary situation. While we know we are more electronically connected today than we were a few short years ago,  it makes sense that five years from now each of our digital footprints are only going to expand. Some of this digital footprint we, as individuals have control over. Other parts we’ll have to convince our legislators to address.

If you want to rein in your digital footprint, here are 13 important tips that can help!

  1. When you load an app from Google Play or iTunes, do not share anything more than you need to make the app work.

  2. Buy an external hard drive vs. storing your pictures in the cloud. The lesson learned by many over the last two years: store nothing online you do not want to go public… and possibly viral!

  3. Diable recording and listening capabilities when not in use for devices like TV controllers, Smart TVs and voice-controlled Bluetooth Devices (Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod).

  4. Use an alias for social media.

  5. Delete your online shopping accounts; “Guest is your friend”

  6. Request to have your information removed from data brokers including Spokeo. These data brokers crawl the web putting together various tidbits of data to form what they believe is a correct representation of anyone without asking the individual to confirm any of the details they have collected or asked permission to publish what they have gathered. Click here to learn more about data brokers and how to get your data removed.

7. Delete your browser history after every session!

8. Follow the same process on your smart devices.

9. Remove download history too.

10 Going forward, read the privacy policy and take advantage of opting out whenever available.

11. Turn on “Do Not Track” in your browser. This won’t work for every site you visit, but it will limit tracking for some sites.

12. Disable geolocation features whenever you’re not actively using them.

13. Contact state and local representatives about adding digital privacy rights to their agenda. Look to the UK’s GDPR as an example of how citizens can affect change.

Bottom Line - Always limit the data you share!

Interesting in learning more about this topic and others? Attend our upcoming IT Audit & Controls Conference in Austin, Texas in November!