How exposed is your personal information online? Learn what PII might be found on the open and dark web, what it means for your security, and digital privacy best practices to protect your online footprint.
JULY 27, 2023
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In an era where our lives are increasingly intertwined with digital technologies, safeguarding our digital privacy and data security has become a major concern.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, personal data has become a hot commodity, frequently bought and sold online. As a result, your private information can be found on hundreds of websites such as people-search databases and data-broker sites accessible to anyone willing to pay as little as 99 cents in some cases. With that in mind, it’s important to understand how to protect your digital privacy and prevent the exploitation of your Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Though learning personal best practices and utilizing effective tools for data and PII protection is helpful, you may not realize the extent to which your information appears online, and whether or how that information should be guarded or removed. Professional services can take a proactive, round-the-clock approach to safeguarding or scrubbing your data, helping to avoid difficult, compromising, or costly scenarios.
What is Personally Identifiable Information?
Personally Identifiable Information refers to any data or information that can be used to identify, locate, or contact a specific individual. This information can be used either alone or in combination with other data.
Examples of Personally Identifiable Information include:
- Full name
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Date of Birth (DOB)
- Home or office address
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Driver's License Number
- Passport Number
- Financial information such as credit card numbers or bank account details
- Biometric data such as fingerprints or facial recognition data
Every time you shop online, create an account with a social media platform, sign up for a service, open a financial account, fill out a survey, or do any number of common digital activities, you deliver your PII to another organization that has the responsibility to safeguard that information. That being said, breaches and theft still occur regularly and in some cases your PII is shared because you unwillingly gave an organization permission to sell your data.
There are countless ways in which your PII being accessed can impact your life. Financial crimes and fraud are obvious cases, but we have also seen cases where a client’s physical security was in danger, like when a prominent executive was harassed outside their home after activists did a quick Google search of their address. People who work in politics, non-profit spaces, and other potentially hot-button arenas have had their email addresses and home addresses — as well as those of their families — leaked, giving their opponents and their followers the means to disturb and disrupt their daily lives.
"Financial crimes and fraud are obvious cases, but we have also seen cases where a client’s physical security was in danger, like when a prominent executive was harassed outside their home after activists did a quick Google search of their address."
Though many of us can’t avoid engaging with online platforms and handing over some PII on a regular basis, the best defense for this is a digital privacy protection plan that monitors and deletes sensitive data and prevents people from finding you.
What Does Digital Privacy Protection Mean?
In theory, we all understand the reasons why any one person would want their online privacy safeguarded. Just as we don’t want people looking through our windows into our homes or rifling through our cupboards and vanities to find sensitive information, we don’t want bad actors gaining access to our digital data either.
"Just as we don’t want people looking through our windows into our homes or rifling through our cupboards and vanities to find sensitive information, we don’t want bad actors gaining access to our digital data either."
That said, digital and online privacy protection takes more than one form. It’s not just about keeping your email password safe, or that no one can access your devices (though those are important aspects of any protection plan). Privacy protection means:
- Protecting PII: Your personal data holds immense value to cybercriminals, ranging from financial details to home addresses. By prioritizing strong digital privacy measures, you actively reduce the risk of falling victim to identity theft and financial fraud.
- Safeguarding online reputation: Preserving your digital privacy empowers you to maintain control over the information available about you on the internet. By taking proactive steps to protect your privacy, you reduce the chances of reputational damage, potential employment complications, or unwarranted exposure of personal details. Shielding your digital presence helps ensure that your online reputation remains intact and aligned with your desired image.
- Defending against cyber threats: Cyber threats encompass a wide range of malicious activities and risks that can compromise your online security and personal information. They include malware, phishing attacks, ransomware, data breaches, and social engineering campaigns. Almost all attacks can result in bad actors gaining access to or disrupting your devices and data.
With so much of our information and data currently stored across a myriad of sites, apps, and platforms, it only takes one weakness to compromise your data security and privacy. By actively taking measures to safeguard your personal information, you can mitigate the risk of identity theft, preserve your online reputation, maintain online privacy, and defend against evolving cyber threats.
Best Practices for Digital Privacy Protection
The path to strong digital security begins with prioritizing and fortifying your online defenses and engaging in the right practices. Best practices for protecting yourself in the digital space includes:
- Use strong and unique passwords: Use a password generator to create complex passwords or passphrases – combinations of letters, numbers, and other characters with no pattern -- for all your online accounts.
- Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Two-Factor Authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring a secondary verification method, such as a fingerprint or a verification code sent to your smartphone.
- Regularly update software and operating systems: Keep your devices, apps, and operating systems up to date to ensure you have the latest security patches and bug fixes.
- Encrypt your data: Utilize encryption tools, such as Microsoft’s BitLocker and Apple’s FileVault, to protect your data both during transit (e.g., HTTPS) and at rest (e.g., full-disk encryption). This makes it harder for unauthorized individuals to access your information.
- Be mindful of public Wi-Fi: Avoid accessing sensitive information, such as banking or email accounts, while connected to public Wi-Fi networks. If necessary, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your internet traffic.
- Be aware when accepting terms, conditions, and privacy policies: It’s easy to accept the terms and policies of the various websites we visit on a daily basis without reading them. However, sometimes agreeing to permissions or policies can give apps and platforms access to your data that you’d rather keep private – so be aware of what is being asked of you each time you hit “Accept.”
3 Essential Tools for Digital Privacy Protection
We use tools to secure our safety in the real world all the time — everything from door locks to robust security systems. Leveraging the right tools can significantly enhance your digital privacy protection, providing an added layer of security and peace of mind. Here are some essential tools that you should consider incorporating into your arsenal:
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN creates a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the internet. By routing your internet traffic through a remote server, a VPN shields your online activities from prying eyes and potential eavesdroppers. It masks your IP address, making it difficult for third parties to track your online behavior, and encrypts your data, ensuring that sensitive information remains secure.
- Antivirus and anti-malware software: Installing reputable antivirus and anti-malware software is vital for protecting your devices from malicious programs that can compromise your digital privacy. These software solutions scan your system for viruses, malware, and other malicious software, detecting and removing them to prevent potential security breaches. Regularly updating your antivirus software ensures that you have the latest virus definitions and security patches.
- Password managers: Using weak or repetitive passwords can put your digital privacy at risk. Password managers, such as BitWarden and LastPass, can generate and store complex, unique passwords for each account. With a password manager, you only need to remember a master password to access all your other passwords. This eliminates the need to reuse passwords or rely on easily guessable ones, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorized access to your accounts. Additionally, password managers often provide features like autofill and password strength analysis.
By incorporating these essential tools into your digital privacy practices, you create a robust personal defense against potential threats. But what if your needs for security and privacy go beyond the basics?
The benefits of Professional Digital Security
Considering the complex nature of digital privacy and the ever-evolving cyber threats, seeking professional assistance can provide significant advantages.
Anyone who is concerned with the increase in cybercrime and fraud over the last few years will want to explore professional help. But executives, high-net-worth individuals and the employees of their family offices, and those who work in controversial fields such as policymaking will want to control whether it’s possible to connect any online activities to their real-world whereabouts.
For many of us, physical safety and home security is often top-of-mind, and it’s harder to see how our digital actions can endanger us. But if people can find your PII and locate you or your family, suddenly, your online security flaws become the gateway to potential physical or emotional harm, and/or allow bad actors to use your information against you.
"But if people can find your PII and locate you or your family, suddenly, your online security flaws become the gateway to potential physical or emotional harm."
Here’s how professional security services can help defend your PII and keep you safe, both online and off:
- Tailored cybersecurity programs: Professional firms, like Global Guardian, offer custom cybersecurity programs based on your specific lifestyle and threat landscape, ensuring comprehensive protection. These programs take into account your unique needs, such as the devices you use, your online activities, and potential vulnerabilities.
- Extensive monitoring and support: With 24/7 support, including dark web monitoring and remediation, professional firms proactively monitor potential threats and assist in remedying any security breaches. The dedicated team of experts keeps a vigilant eye on the dark web, where stolen data is often traded, to identify if your personal information is at risk. By promptly detecting and responding to any security incidents, professional firms provide an added layer of protection.
- Personalized consultation: The Concierge program provided by Global Guardian offers access to dedicated consultants who provide personalized cybersecurity consultation and support. These consultants work closely with you to understand your specific needs, educate you on digital privacy best practices, and tailor a cybersecurity plan that aligns with your requirements. By having a trusted expert at your disposal, you can make informed decisions and receive guidance on enhancing your digital privacy.
- Comprehensive home assessment: Professional firms conduct thorough home network security assessments, including device hardening and vulnerability scans, to identify and address any weaknesses in your network security. During these assessments, experts review the security configurations of your devices and accounts, ensuring that they are properly hardened against potential threats. They also perform vulnerability scans to identify any potential security vulnerabilities within your home network.
These services provide you with expert guidance, proactive protection, and enhanced digital security, enabling you to navigate the digital landscape with confidence.
Protecting your digital privacy and ensuring data security requires a proactive approach, incorporating best practices, utilizing effective tools, and considering professional digital privacy protection options. By understanding the importance of digital security, implementing recommended strategies, and leveraging essential tools, you can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and safeguard your personal information. Additionally, exploring the benefits of professional assistance, like Global Guardian's Digital Privacy Protection Program, can provide you with tailored, comprehensive solutions that address your unique privacy needs.
Standing by to Support
The Global Guardian team is standing by to support your digital security requirements. To learn more about our Digital Privacy Protection Plans, including a Threat Vulnerability Assessment to understand your online exposure, complete the form below or call us at + 1 (703) 566-9463.