Many people are concerned about identity theft and believe that the risk of digital life hacking is considerable. Others think that having their digital life hacked, stolen, and taken over by someone else is something that only happens in the movies or to an unfortunate few. How real is the risk of being targeted by cybercriminals?

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What is the risk of digital life hacking for the average person?

If you have ever bought anything online, operate a Facebook or Twitter account, have used online forms or have an online bank account, you are actually at risk of having your digital life hacked and stolen. Disclosing any information online will place you at a higher risk of having your personal information stolen than if you kept all of that information to yourself. What many people fail to realize is there is a considerable risk of online theft if precautions are not taken.

Take mobile phone applications or social media accounts as an example. When you download the former, you must agree to give the app access to a considerable amount of your data. Check what features the app wants to access before you next want to install one. You will find that it can access your location, your personal data, interact with other apps, and may even require you to agree to let it access your microphone. The T&Cs will also tell you that the information recorded will be shared with third parties in many cases.

You may trust the app, but who are those third parties? And can you trust them? How secure are their security protections? The fact is that it is not only one app that will have your data. A number of different company’s may be provided with it as well.

When you enter information on Social media, you are giving that data away. Facebook makes a tidy profit out of selling personal information to advertisers. This is how the company runs the website without charging people to have an account.

Facebook may have excellent security, but not all online services, websites and mobile apps do. They also share information with businesses for promotional or advertising purposes, and there is no way to tell how good those companies’ security is, because you will not even know who those companies are.

Any information released in the Internet or entered into an online form or social media post could potentially be given to someone else.

Are you handing your digital life to a hacker?

Digital life hacking does occur, and with alarming frequency. Online criminals are earning an estimated $100 billion a year according to FBI figures. Crime is rife online, and the victims are numerous.

Every time you enter personal information online you could be compromising that data. Compromise enough and your identity can be stolen. You may not display your year of birth on Facebook, but it is not hard to guess if you have listed your graduation year. You may be surprised at how much information can actually be gained just from accessing your Facebook page.

It doesn’t take a hacker to commit identity theft in many cases. Just about anyone could do it if they are sufficiently motivated. Information can be gathered from social media accounts, a spear phishing email devised and sent with a link to a malicious website. Click that link and malware can be installed on your computer, and all of your data can then be obtained. The risk of digital life hacking can therefore be considerable, and many people make it far too easy for online criminals.

How to reduce the risk of digital life hacking

Don’t Panic – If your information is “out there,” it cannot be retrieved. But you can take steps to reduce the level of data exposure. Try searching for yourself online, see how your social media profiles look to others who are not in your friend circle. Type in your name and phone number into Google and see if you can be found. Use your address, home town, job title or the company you work for. That will give you an idea of how much information exists online. Once you know, you can then take steps to remove that information.

Do not link accounts – You may want everyone to be able to find you online, but that means criminals can too. It is not a good idea from a digital security standpoint to link all of your social media accounts together. You could be making it far too easy for someone to steal your identity or target you with a phishing campaign.

Two-factor authentication is your friend – Two-factor authentication uses two methods of verifying your identity. A username/password combo and your mobile phone number or email address. Many authentication systems use three systems of user identification, including a knowledge factor, a possession factor, and an inherence factor: Something that you know, have in your possession, and something that you are. The latter being a retinal scan or fingerprint. Always make sure you use online services that have at least two-factor authentication.

Back up your data – Not everyone is out to steal your identity. Some may just want to sabotage your life. If your accounts are deleted or corrupted, make sure you have a copy of your data so all is not lost. Back up all of your digital data securely, and preferably encrypt that backup. You wouldn’t want that file to be stolen.