You are being tracked and monitored on the internet
When you use the internet, you leave behind an online footprint: a trail of where you have been, what you’re doing, and who you’re talking to. If you’re using Facebook, someone who’s never met you may have the ability to view a detailed profile of you, your social relationships, your work, and your interests. This is something which if in the wrong hands, could cause severe harm both online and offline.
The stories you post and the information you share can be an excellent resource for friends, however can be dangerous knowledge for a stranger. An individual who tweeted that they’d be away from home returned to the aftermath of a robbery, as the burglars knew the residence wouldn’t be occupied. Due to the content of the user’s Twitter feed, thieves may also have been made aware of any valuables the individual owned, such as a computer, tablet, and potentially even identity documents. Something as simple as “I’ll be back on Thursday” or “I’m visiting a friend next week” could leave your home exposed.
When you post regarding a pet or family member on social media, you are potentially revealing information utilised as part of security checks. When submitting account recoveries for popular services such as email (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc…), gaming sites, internet providers, and even banking services, you are often asked for personal information such as a pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, the first place you flew to, names of childhood friends, and so on. Much of this information is commonly made available through social media. If you are not cautious about what you post online, you may be making it easier for a third party to compromise your account and access any emails or messages you’ve sent or received.
If you use your full name on social media, you are exposing yourself to these kind of risks. If you’ve ever voted in a United Kingdom election, (unless you opted-out of the open register) your address is available for anyone to view. All someone needs is your first name, last name and your area and they know where you live. These are all things that people openly post on social media such as Facebook and Twitter and often leave public so old friends and colleagues can find them.
Information of this caliber being posted publicly means that everyone can find you, not just friends. Terrorist attacks, assassinations, and kidnappings become much easier to plan when an attacker knows the location of their target. Stalkers can monitor your day-to-day activities through your profiles, creating a map of where you’ve been and where you’re likely to go. Although much of this behaviour is unlikely on an individual level, public figures are more likely to be at risk due to more potential motivations for someone to carry out an act of violence or hate.
Shortly following the election of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump announced the cabinet for his administration. Utilising only the name and the state posted on his Twitter, an individual was able to find the public figures’ location within 6 minutes. With the increase in drone usage, both as a civilian utility and as one utilised in warfare, even with an allocated security detail, it would be fairly straightforward for an attack to be undertaken with access to this information.
Some websites throw caution to the wind. Where sites like Facebook and Twitter may strip metadata from images you upload, some websites don’t. Newer cameras and mobile devices often attach GPS coordinates to images you take. If you upload an image and did not strip the metadata, it’s possible that you are providing your location to anyone who views the image properties. If you’re being stalked and you have a blog, your stalker will not only be able to see the food you’re posting, but they’d have access to the restaurant name and the time the image was taken. If you post this kind of thing regularly, they would be able to determine when your next visit is.
On the subject of imagery, with the emergence of utilities such as Google Earth, posting an image of the house outside your window or a local park could be very revealing. Individuals have utilised the colour of tiling on the end of a road to locate houses with the use of satellite view. In combination with a rough area (obtainable from Facebook profiles, Twitter pages, images and even IP addresses) it’s possible to rapidly locate the area someone lives in.
Information contained within an image may include something more blatant such as landmarks, shops, street signs, number plates and certificates, but could also include something more subtle. Something such as the plug sockets used on the walls and a shopping bag could be used to determine demographic information about you such as your country and where you shop, with clothes in the background suggesting your gender and possibly even your age. Forensic examiners look for determining pieces of information such as this when reviewing photos of crime scenes, aiding them in determining which law enforcement agencies to involve and generate leads.
Email addresses often are required to sign up to online services and websites, acting as a ‘key’ for much of what we do online. Most people utilise the same email address for every website they sign up for, which although can make some things easier, increases the risk of your email or other accounts being compromised or uncovered. With the emergence of the digital world, we find ourselves interacting with our friends online and even applying for job postings online. This kind of behaviour means that our accounts are highly revealing and can contain anything from our personal habits to submissions of detailed legal forms (which may contain data such as social security numbers.)
The act of uncovering an email address isn’t harmful in itself, however, many popular services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype allow for email addresses to be searched to locate an account. There is a possibility that each profile may reveal something new about the user which wasn’t listed elsewhere, providing a potential stalker with valuable information regarding their target.
Similarly, this kind of search can often be undertaken with a mobile number. Assuming you meet someone for the first time and exchange contact information, it’s possible that the individual may decide to search for your number on various websites or even using a search engine such as Google. If you have not configured your settings carefully on some websites, they will give your account as a result of the search. Suddenly one of your colleagues may have access to your life story, or someone who you’ve only just met may have access to your schedule or habits.
Sharing information itself is not inherently harmful, however the risk posed to individuals may be great due to a lack of understanding regarding what information is sensitive. Some online communities have promoted “doxing”, a behaviour where an individual is ‘hunted’ by their peers often as some form of retribution; and although this kind of activity probably won’t be encountered by the average person, it’s certainly a possibility.
To remain safe online, make sure you know what you are sharing and who you’re sharing the information with. Amend your privacy settings on websites such as Facebook to ensure only your friends can view your posts, and make a conscious effort to avoid entering ‘guessable’ recovery answers when configuring your account. On websites such as Twitter, take caution to ensure you’re only posting content that doesn’t contain any identifying information (or alternatively explore ‘protecting’ your tweets) – your privacy is in your hands – you just need to know what to do with them.