Few people will think about their digital identity when they consider their public exposure. The purpose of this post is not to make you paranoid, but to make you aware of the information that is out there.
As we saw recently with Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s Yahoo e-mail account getting broken into, one must fully understand and manage their digital identity for security reasons as well as personal comfort. Palin’s e-mail account was not “hacked”. An individual just correctly answered the security questions that would allow Palin back into the account if she forgot her password, those generic questions like “What is your mother’s maiden name?”, “What was your first pet’s name?”, and “Where were you born?”. Part of your digital identity management will be choosing strong security questions which nobody else would know the correct answer and making sure that that information doesn’t become public later on.
Your digital identity is any component of your physical identity that exists on the Internet. I want to continue using the Sarah Palin example without making anything political out of it. When John McCain announced his running mate for the 2008 presidential election, the media had a field day with it. Why? Palin’s daughter and her boyfriend had a MySpace page. This allowed greater access to Sarah Palin’s digital identity. Photos of holding a gun in a bikini, a pregnant teen daughter, and other things we would each rather keep to ourselves if we were in that situation. This information generated a lot of negative press because of a poorly managed digital identity. This readily available information was also what allowed the individual to gain permission to Palin’s Yahoo! e-mail account.
I don’t mean to pick on Palin or MySpace, she just provides a really good example and MySpace (along with Facebook and other social networking sites) is a popular service where people volunteer information to create their digital identity. I guess what I’m trying to say is that so much of the web is composed of anonymous people that when a genuine identity is exposed, it sticks out like a sore thumb. The person exposes themselves to the social masses and security risks like identity theft.
Check out a few of these things in your favorite search engine:
- Your name
- Your e-mail address
- The screen name you commonly use
- The screen name you used a few years ago
- Your web site’s name and URL
- Your company’s name (if you run your own)
Your name will return a lot of results that aren’t relevant (unless you have a really unique name) but you might find a few that are; try adding your hometown to the query to narrow it down some more.
Your e-mail address results: now you know where the spam comes from.
Results from your user name: Found some old profiles on dating web sites? How embarrassing!
My point is that some of this information might be fine for the few friends or family that would see it, but you need to realize that this is also exposed to the world (wide web). Prospective employers, in-laws, and the gossipy old ladies down the street are all privy to the information as well as random Joe Six-Packs around the world.
Take action: You might spend a little time with these search results to clean up and properly manage your digitial identity.
- Close old accounts.
- Remove your e-mail address from public postings. (Try using one of the many temporary e-mail account services out there. They’ll disappear after receiving a set quantity of e-mails and forward them onto you as they come in. Mailinator and SpamGourmet are two examples.)
- Reconsider the privacy settings on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
- Be wary of all things that you post in the future that expands your digital identity.
- Choose strong passwords and stronger security questions.