The digital footprint of a modern organization reflects on how it engages with the cyber world. This includes elements such as its website, social media interactions, email communications, data storage practices, and search engine visibility.
With the growing use of cloud computing, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, 5G, and IoT across the enterprise ecosystem, a company’s digital presence builds up exponentially. As more organizational data crosses a secure perimeter along the way, threat actors get more opportunities to weaponize it through targeted attacks.
Let’s go over the risks of turning a blind eye to the organization’s digital footprint and the ways to avoid them.
Ramifications of an unattended digital footprint
If spilled left and right without reasonable constraints, publicly-accessible information and metadata can significantly impact a company’s reputation, security, and compliance efforts.
A vast digital footprint implies a wider attack surface. With more web assets, software, and online platforms, there are many more entry points for cybercriminals to exploit. Vulnerabilities in any of these assets are often in the crosshairs, fueling data breaches and unauthorized access.
Large digital footprints potentially expose usernames and email addresses. Bad actors can leverage these in brute force or credential stuffing attacks, where they use known credentials from one platform to access another, given that a whopping 54% of employees reuse passwords across different work accounts.
The data harvested through reconnaissance of the web-facing enterprise infrastructure has become a catalyst for targeted attacks such as spear-phishing or business email compromise (BEC), where criminals impersonate company executives or partners.
Crooks can use information from an expanded digital footprint to perform data mining. This foul play can include gathering employee contact details for subsequent social engineering scams or aggregating data for sale on the dark web.
Gain and maintain control of all data
Security teams can mitigate these risks by preventing sensitive data from leaving the organization in the first place. However, in a world where so much happens online rather than on-premises and face-to-face, it’s easier said than done.
Decision-makers have to understand that they need to keep the amount of publicly-available company data to a sensible minimum. This translates into efforts to actively – and proactively – manage and reduce the digital footprint. Here are seven ways to make that happen:
- Measure: Identify the boundaries of the company’s footprint. Security teams find this challenging because it may stretch beyond the organization, encompassing data that belongs to contractors and partners. Map every third party to grasp the true scope of the organization’s digital presence. Once the edges are identified, implement a robust vendor management program to vet these entities, assign risk ratings, and maintain continuous monitoring.
- Prioritize: Focus on securing the assets that matter the most; otherwise, the team will spread organizational IT resources too thin and get little mileage out of data management in the long run. It’s good practice to keep tabs on personally identifiable information of employees and customers, financial records, cloud assets, authentication data, and intellectual property. Regularly check for credentials leaks, misconfigured cloud storage, or unintentionally exposed proprietary records.
- Tidy up: Pinpoint and remove personal information of executives and employees that ended up where it doesn’t belong – on the open internet or the dark web. A good number of subscription-based privacy services out there can do the hard part if this feels like a reinvent-the-wheel type of thing.
- Enforce the right policies: Clear privacy and data retention policies are vital. Communicate these policies effectively to both employees and customers. Not only does such transparency build trust, but it also lowers the risk of legal and reputational consequences.
- Shift security left: Integrate security from the beginning of software and system development. This strategy minimizes vulnerabilities and lowers the chances of post-implementation security gaps. Least privilege principle, encryption of data in transit and at rest, and multi-factor authentication add layers of security to data management practices.
- Know the company’s online reputation: Stay on top of what others say about the company online. Scrutinize reviews on platforms like Glassdoor and Yelp, track mentions on social media, analyze press coverage, and assess search engine results. This can offer clues about someone’s potential plans to target the company.
- Educate the staff: Consider employee training a linchpin of a reduced online footprint. A security-savvy staff is less likely to overshare confidential information on social media and other public online services. Make sure the team can recognize potential threats and know how to report them.
Smaller, well-managed digital footprints offer fewer opportunities for exploitation. Here’s a strategy for digital well-being: apply stringent access controls, educate the staff on cybersecurity best practices, enforce data retention rules, and monitor the company’s online presence. Just stay the course and make it a continuous process, not a one-time endeavor.
David Balaban, owner, Privacy-PC