Like any footprint, a digital footprint is nothing but the mark we leave behind in the digital world when we use any application or website over the internet. We may not realise how big our digital footprint is but let us be assured that it’s much greater than we can imagine. Every application collects tonnes of data each and every day, and these data are refined to get better insights into our lives. Companies like Google probably know more about us than we know about ourselves.
In this article, let us take Google applications as an example and see how deeply they have access to your personal life and the role of digital assurance/security testing.
Not so long ago, we did not need a mail ID to start our new Android phone, but these days we need a mail ID to configure a new Android device. What happens when we enter our email address? Google immediately comes to know the model of phone we have bought, and it definitely knows all the previous phones we owned because we might have entered the same email address in those devices as well.
The next thing we do is add all our contacts from our previous phone or whatever. This task was very tedious in the past, but these days we can sync our contacts to our email ID and get those contacts to our new device with just a few taps. Any normal user will find this feature helpful as it saves a lot of time, but let’s understand how much data we are providing. We may have saved our father’s and mother’s names as Dad or Mom, by which they can identify our parents; they can know our siblings; as a matter of fact, they can even draw out our entire family tree; they can know our car’s or bike’s brand as we may have the brand’s service person’s number. Just by syncing our contacts, we are revealing a lot of things about ourselves.
When we use Google Maps, we search for a location, get directions, and travel to that particular location. If we continue to leave ‘Location’ switched on in our phone, Google will now know every mall, shop, restaurant, and other spots we visit. Based on this data, Google can analyse it and get some ideas about our lifestyle and spending habits.
Google Pay, often known as GPay, is the company’s own payment app. We get rewarded for our transactions, it’s free to use, and it’s really simple to set up and use. Who would refuse to use such a program? Let’s take a moment to consider the issues involved. We provide Google access to information about our bank accounts, financial situation, spending patterns, and much more. As a result of tracking our financial transactions, Google can now analyse regional cash flows and make predictions about the financial health of countries and regions. It can forecast what month individuals prefer to shop for a particular type of product. For retailers and other businesses, this kind of information is a gold mine.
YouTube has become a part of our lives. Whether it be education or entertainment, we rely on YouTube for our needs. People also use it to earn some extra income or even as a full-time income source.
While we surf YouTube, we help YouTube learn about our taste in various fields; for example, one may frequently search for Italian dishes or Western outfit designs. These tastes of ours are recorded on their server, and these data are then used to give us recommendations specifically tailored for us.
Apart from this, let us see various other things YouTube knows about us:
Because we turn to YouTube for solutions, it is aware of the majority of our issues. There is a benefit to this as well. The YouTube algorithm assesses all the data it has gathered from us and provides us with the finest recommendations. The advice could be for a similar entertainment video, a product that might be beneficial for our health, or training programmes that can help us improve our skills. This makes us feel like we are being catered to.
Let’s check to see if the same is true for the gallery.
Our phones’ Gallery app is more intelligent than ever. It may tag each photo with the location where it was taken, automatically make a collage for us, and highlight old memorable moments by unexpectedly displaying a group of pictures that read “One year ago today.” That’s not all; in the modern era, these apps are able to identify people in photos by their faces. The fact that our phone has learned to identify a person by glancing at their face gives me the creeps, even though this feature may be interesting and important to know about.
While the digital age has brought numerous benefits, it has also exposed us to certain security threats. Here are some common security threats associated with our digital footprints:
1. Identity Theft: Cybercriminals can exploit the information found in our digital footprints, such as personal details, social media posts, and online transactions, to impersonate us and commit identity theft. This can result in financial loss and reputational damage.
2. Phishing Attacks: Digital footprints can provide valuable information to cyber attackers, enabling them to craft sophisticated phishing emails or messages that appear genuine. By tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial details, attackers can gain unauthorized access to accounts or conduct fraudulent activities.
3. Data Breach: As we saw above, organizations collect and store vast amounts of data from our digital footprints. If these organizations fail to implement robust security measures, cybercriminals can exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access and steal sensitive data, leading to data breaches. This can result in financial loss, legal consequences, and reputational damage for both organizations and individuals.
4. Location Tracking and Privacy Invasion: Like Google Maps, many other digital platforms and services also track our locations through GPS, Wi-Fi, or IP addresses. If this information falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for stalking, physical threats, or unauthorized surveillance, compromising our privacy and personal safety.
5. Online Harassment and Cyberbullying: Our digital footprints, including social media posts and online interactions, can make us vulnerable to online harassment and cyberbullying. Personal information shared online can be used to harass, intimidate, or defame individuals, causing emotional distress and potential harm.
To mitigate these security threats, it is crucial that we be cautious about the information we share online. We must regularly review privacy settings, use strong and unique passwords, enable two-factor authentication wherever available, and stay updated on the latest cybersecurity practises. Additionally, organisations must also focus on prioritising data security, implementing encryption, conducting regular security audits, and educating employees about potential risks and best practises for protecting sensitive information.
The so-called digital footprint is a topic that has only just begun to be explored in this article. Beyond what has been covered here, the origins of our digital footprint go far further back. Should we have any concerns? Do we have to take any action at all? There is no right or incorrect solution to this subject; all I can do is share my viewpoint. Since most of our lives now revolve around the internet, there isn’t much we can do to stop it. We might suddenly be cautious about our internet footprint and the traces we leave behind after reading this post when before reading it, we might not have given it any thought and felt at ease.
Let’s make a straightforward contrast. Before the invention of computers, if we were to live a typical day of going to work, eating supper after work, and returning home, investigators could really follow our footprints. Simply put, it means that no matter the age, we always leave a trace of ourselves behind. We are only able to exercise caution and prevent the internet disclosure of any sensitive information that might endanger us.
By Ankit Kumar Ojha
By Uma Raj
Vasanth Williams is an Automation Engineer at Indium, focusing on end to end IoT testing . He holds B.Tech in Computer Science and has also published paper in IEEE Xplore on the topic IoT based Smart Home. He thrives to find innovative ways to Automate IoT testing.