A digital footprint is the residual information individuals and organizations leave while navigating the Web. It can be an active footprint users voluntarily share or a passive one they unknowingly left behind. Whether active or passive, though, digital footprints can shape a data owner’s online reputation and persona. This information can be used for various legal purposes, including investigations, forensic analysis, among others.

However, threat actors can also abuse digital footprints. They can use regular Internet users’ personal information to commit identity theft, financial fraud, and other forms of cybercrime. Attackers can also lurk behind businesses and collect their digital footprints to learn about their systems, networks, and applications. They can then check these resources for vulnerabilities and potential exploits.

Other interesting terms…

Read More about a Digital Footprint

Here are some critical details about a digital footprint.

What Are the Types of Digital Footprints?

As mentioned, digital footprints can be active or passive. We’ll discuss them in greater detail below.

Digital Footprint

What Is a Passive Digital Footprint?

A passive digital footprint refers to any data a person or an entity left behind without awareness while browsing the Web. This information is most likely created and collected even if you don’t realize it. For example, most websites have cookies that can track your browsing history, device information, and location data.

Passive footprints can also run deeper. Threat actors can use tools to scan an organization’s network for exploitable open ports. They can then collect network configuration and software usage data to see if they have exploitable security vulnerabilities.

Since this information is subtly gathered, the owner does not have control over what information gets shared and how it is used.

What Are Examples of Passive Digital Footprints?

Below are some examples of passive digital footprints.

  • Web browsing histories
  • Search histories
  • IP addresses
  • Device information
  • Location data
  • Ad tracking data
  • App usage data
  • Financial transaction data
  • Social media engagement data
  • Network configuration data

What Is an Active Digital Footprint?

Active digital footprints refers to information you intentionally provide online. You consciously choose to share it with anyone, so you can control what it is and how to present it.

An active digital footprint can contribute to a person’s or an organization’s online reputation. Potential employers, investors, lenders, or even malicious actors can use it to learn more about you.

It’s critical for businesses to educate employees about active digital footprints so they can be mindful of the information they share on the Internet.

What Are Examples of Active Digital Footprints?

Active digital footprints can come in various forms, including:

  • Names and usernames 
  • Email addresses
  • Social media profiles
  • Social media posts
  • Online reviews
  • Online forum posts
  • Online dating profiles
  • Online purchases
  • Resumes and job applications
  • Websites
  • Subdomains

What Are Common Ways to Collect Digital Footprints?

Below are some of the most common methods attackers use to gather a target’s digital footprint.

  • Web tracking: Threat actors can employ cookies, pixels, and other tracking technologies embedded in websites and online ads to monitor your browsing activities, interests, and even location.
  • Data aggregators: They buy and compile data from different sources, including public records, social media platforms, and marketing databases, to build detailed profiles of individuals and organizations.
  • Open-source intelligence (OSINT): Threat actors can gather information from social media profiles, blog posts, news articles, job postings, and other publicly available sources to glean insights into your activities, relationships, and potential vulnerabilities.
  • Network traffic analysis: By monitoring network traffic, especially unencrypted communication, they can potentially intercept sensitive information like login credentials or confidential documents.
  • Phishing: Deceptive emails, text messages, or websites can lure you into revealing personal information like your passwords, financial details, or login credentials.
  • Malware: Malicious software like keyloggers can capture your keystrokes, while other malware can steal data from your device or track your online activities.
  • Social engineering: Manipulative tactics like pretexting or impersonation can be used to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information.

Everyone on the Internet has a digital footprint, whether voluntarily shared or not. While these can be useful for background checks and other legitimate purposes, threat actors can also abuse and use them against their owners. 

It’s important to remember that the legal usage of digital footprints is subject to various privacy laws and regulations, so using this information must comply with relevant legal frameworks.