What is a Digital Footprint?

    The term “digital footprint” refers to a trail of data created by an individual or organization when they interact with digital devices or platforms via the Internet. It comprises all actions taken online, including social media engagement, website visits, e-commerce transactions, and email exchanges, all of which combined create a profile of the individual or organization’s digital identity. 

    Digital footprints are known to frequently contain personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive data, which makes them of interest to cyber criminals. As such, managing one’s digital footprint is considered an important part of proactive cybersecurity.

    How do digital footprints work?

    Digital footprints are generated by recording and storing details of an individual or organization’s online activities. When a user visits or interacts with an online platform, service, or device, they leave a trail of data traces behind. This can include types of data such as browser cookies, saved queries, transaction histories, and IP addresses, among others.

    The traces of data left behind by a user are gathered and stored by a variety of different parties, such as websites, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), social media companies, and advertisers. This information is then used to create a digital profile of a user’s behaviors, interests, and preferences which can be used for purposes like analytics, targeted advertising, and content and recommendation personalization.

    What are the types of digital footprints?

    Digital footprints can be broken down into two primary categories: active digital footprints and passive digital footprints.

    Active digital footprints consist of data traces emanating from deliberate online actions. This can include activities like publishing blog articles on websites, posting content to social media, or interacting with customers and clients via online services and applications. Additionally, active digital footprints also include activities conducted using internet-facing components, both hardware and software. This can include the use of company endpoints, email accounts, cloud computing services, and IoT devices. Lastly, active digital footprints also comprise proprietary data or intellectual property that is under the direct control of the individual or organization in question.

    Passive digital footprints are data traces that are collected automatically and not under the direct control of the individual or organization in question. This data is created through the use of third-party software services, shadow IT, disused accounts or software applications, or externally generated content such as customer reviews or media coverage. In some cases, an individual or organization’s digital footprint can also be affected by the malicious actions of impersonators, like in the case of phishing activity. Since this is beyond their control, it can be considered a contributing factor to their passive digital footprint.

    What impact does a digital footprint have?

    A digital footprint can have a considerable impact, particularly for organizations. 

    On one hand, a positive footprint can help increase an organization’s visibility and boost its online profile, instilling potential clients and customers with a sense of trust. On the other hand, a negative footprint can have the opposite effect, potentially tarnishing the reputation and image of a legitimate organization. Additionally, since digital footprints contain personally identifiable information (PII), they can potentially be leveraged by malicious actors for the purposes of phishing or even identity theft. 

    Digital footprints can prove useful in terms of establishing an online presence, but by the same token, they also present certain reputational and security risks. As such, it is essential for organizations to manage their digital footprints carefully to ensure that their data cannot be leveraged against them.

    Managing digital footprints for reputation and data protection

    A digital footprint is a reflection of an individual or organization’s online activities and behaviors, comprising all data created therein, both actively and passively. It plays a major role in shaping public perception, and as such, it carries with it both reputational. Moreover, due to the sensitive nature of the data that a digital footprint can include, it is also a cybersecurity concern. As such, it is imperative for both individuals and organizations alike to take proactive security measures to manage their digital footprints. In doing so, they can maintain healthy online reputations and ensure that their critical assets stay protected.

    Glossary related terms
    Automated Penetration Testing Automated Security Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) External Attack Surface Management (EASM) Red Teaming Security Control Validation Security Validation Vulnerability Management