Retirement Life
28 January 2021

Take control of your digital footprint

If you got a new iPad, smartphone or piece of wearable tech for Christmas, you may be enjoying access to a raft of exciting new information. But just what data are you unwittingly giving out in return?

Steven Furnell, Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Nottingham, and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security) at Edith Cowan University in Australia say that very few of us stop of think about how new devices impact our digital footprint, or whether we could inadvertently be building new ‘channels’ between us and cyber criminals.

In a recent article on The Conversation, they offer these tips for locking down your digital footprint in 2021.

1. Use more sophisticated credentials

When it comes to setting up a new device or account, you should always use a unique password — every time. While this might sound painful, using password managers makes it easier. Should your password for a particular account be stolen, at least the others will remain secure.

It’s also worth checking the Have I Been Pwned? website, which can reveal whether your online credentials have already been leaked.

And even if you’re using more sophisticated biometric-based approaches on a device (such as face or fingerprint login), you can still leave yourself exposed by having a weak password that can allow hackers to bypass the biometric.

Also, if you need to enter a credit card number or other financial details to set up an account, you may want to remove them through the service provider’s site or app. Deleting stored payment details where they are no longer needed will help protect your finances.

Do you know how to lock down  your digital footprint?

Do you know how to lock down your digital footprint?

2. You don't always have to be transparent online

We constantly provide our personal information online in exchange for access to accounts and services. This often includes date of birth, postcode or details such as your mother’s maiden name. Consider having a fake identity. That way, if your details are stolen, your real data will be safe.

You may want to set up a sacrificial email account too, or even a temporary address (also called a “burner email”) to sign onto services that are likely to spam you in the future.

Apple device users may want to explore the “Sign in with Apple” feature. This restricts the amount of personal data shared with a service being used.

3. What happens to our old devices?

When new gadgets enter our lives, the old ones are often passed on to friends and family, sold to strangers, traded in, or simply recycled.

But before we discard our old devices we should make sure they’re clear of our data. Otherwise, selling an old phone may also mean inadvertently selling your private information. Many modern devices, particularly smartphones and tablets, have a factory reset option that removes all user data.

For devices without a distinct wipe or reset option, you can consult with the user manual or manufacturer’s website (which will often have a copy of the user manual). If in doubt, there’s plenty of online advice on how to reset devices.

You may need to remove or unlink the old device from your online identities, such as your Apple ID and delete cloud-based accounts — such as Dropbox or Google Drive — set up specifically for that device.

Need more help?

Furnell and Haskell-Dowland suggest checking out UK Cyber Aware, the Get Safe Online initiative, and the Australian eSafety Commissioner’s website. Here at home, you can also turn to Netsafe.

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