AS part of this CyberSafe series, we tried to see how much of an individual’s data is accessible online. We wanted to learn how easily it was to obtain information (even with little effort), and what we can learn about an individual based solely on a simple Google search.
The results are varied. We looked up names of this writer’s friends (with their permission), but we didn’t need to go very far to find what we were looking for. Around the first five pages already yielded information such as their LinkedIn accounts (with the entire professional history available), the universities they attended, their old extracurriculars and awards. Even old school projects popped up on Google.
For photos, it depends on the individual, but it ranges from one to three photos per person through a simple cursory scroll down Google images.
We also found that individuals who have more unique names were much easier to find, and Google displayed more relevant information for them versus individuals who share a name with other people.
This echoed ethical hacker Jason Hart’s sentiments, which were originally published in an article by the Telegraph UK:
“Even if you don’t have a computer or go online, your information is still out there,” he says. “You are in the phonebook, on the electoral role, or on an old school or university website. To obtain more information about someone, I’d start by putting their name in Google to see if anything jumps out. The more uncommon the name, the better.”
For one of the people we checked however, her fairly “common name” allowed Google to guess her mother’s name too. Whether or not this was just a coincidence, it’s hard to say – but the fact remains that this information is right there.
A chilling thought about this experiment is that even though it didn’t yield as much information as we thought it would, it’s easy to imagine hackers and other people using the available, Googleable information to obtain more.
Most of the people we looked up had privacy settings on for most accounts, but even then, information will still be available. What more if someone who may be a threat is following you on Facebook or Instagram? They would have access to your location when you post photos, stories, and status updates – which may endanger you or say, your residence.
A simple social media bio may also be linked to an email address that is connected to multiple accounts, or may outrightly state your birthdate and the city you live in – all of which can be viewed by a number of people.
And who’s to say that a dedicated hacker won’t dig for more?
The information we make available for the World Wide Web to see can be used to harm us, which is why we should always remain vigilant and think before we post.
This article is part of the Banker’s Association of the Philippines’ (BAP) #CyberSafe campaign, where the BAP aims to promote awareness in cybersecurity. The campaign will upload new posts tackling common web security questions and issues, on Wednesdays and Sundays every week.
For more content on cybersecurity, visit the BAP Official YouTube channel.