Glossary Glossary

Digital Footprint

A digital footprint refers to the data trails people and businesses leave behind while connected to the Internet.

Individuals’ digital footprints are primarily composed of online activity bread crumbs, such as website visits, social media engagements, and search engine queries. However, it may also include personal pages and social media profiles.

A company’s digital footprint, meanwhile, comprises all the public information generated from its web operations. Aside from online profiles and published web pages, a company’s digital footprint also covers its web assets, such as subdomains, IP addresses, and other resources.

Table of Contents

Digital Footprint: A Deep Dive

What Are the Types of Digital Footprints?

There are two main types of digital footprints—active and passive. As an individual, active digital footprints are created when you intentionally share information online. For example, you may post on social media, write a blog post, or enter personally identifiable information (PII) into a web form.

For organizations, digital assets like websites, and consequently domain names and subdomains, can be a part of active digital footprints when they are intentionally made visible to others.

On the other hand, passive digital footprints are created and collected in subtle ways. For example, the websites you or your employees visit probably track browsing activities and record online purchases, while mobile apps can collect your IP address and device information.

The passive digital footprints of organizations typically include their deeper and somewhat hidden online infrastructure, which can be revealed through WHOIS searches, DNS lookups, port scanning, and other discreet reconnaissance and monitoring techniques.

How Is Knowledge of a Company’s Digital Footprints Useful to Threat Actors?

Threat actors use various reconnaissance techniques to learn about corporate digital footprints. They may gather clues from employees’ public profiles or scan the company-operated  IT systems to find potential weaknesses. Next, they may try to exploit the information collected to initiate social engineering scams or launch targeted cyber attacks on an organization’s exposed systems.

That said, it’s crucial for entities to regularly scope and evaluate the risks associated with their corporate digital footprints. In the context of attack surface management (ASM), mapping out digital footprints involves cataloging all Internet-facing assets and scanning them for issues. By doing so, security teams can work on spotting and addressing critical vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.

What Is a Digital Footprint

How Can Organizations Take Control of Their Digital Footprints?

An organization’s digital footprint becomes part of its attack surface when it leads to exploitable vulnerabilities. Below are some actionable ways to start managing digital footprints and attack surfaces.

  • Conduct regular attack surface discovery: It’s unavoidable for organizations to leave digital bread crumbs as they operate and expand. However, regular asset discovery and vulnerability detection can help identify exposure to threats.
  • Implement data minimization practices: Make sure to only give out data essential for your business operations and regularly delete outdated or unnecessary information. The same applies to assets, such as domain names, subdomains, and email addresses. Unused assets must be decommissioned so cybercriminals can’t abuse them.
  • Educate employees: Specific and detailed guidelines on what websites and services employees can access while using corporate networks must be set up. Employees must also be trained in data exposure minimization practices. 

Digital footprints can provide threat actors trails that may lead them to cracks in digital perimeters. Minimizing and protecting your footprint with ASM can help reduce exposure to attacks.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital footprints represent the data trails individuals or businesses leave online.
  • Active footprints are generated from deliberate online actions taken by individuals like posting on social media or by organizations like publishing web pages.
  • Passive footprints are generated and collected more subtly, including by monitoring individuals’ browsing activities or scoping an organization’s web infrastructure.
  • Threat actors collect digital footprints as part of reconnaissance to identify vulnerabilities and potential entry points before launching attacks.
  • Organizations can better manage their digital footprints and associated vulnerabilities by regularly monitoring online assets, implementing data exposure minimization practices, and educating employees on safe online behaviors.
  • Properly managed digital footprints are crucial to protecting against cyber threats and securing one’s online presence.

Interested to see what your company’s digital assets and their vulnerabilities look like to attackers? Schedule a free demo tailored to your organization now.

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