Social Media, Theft and Ransom – Part 3

26 October 2016

To effectively mitigate the risks posed by social media when it comes to reputation and privacy, successful individuals must adapt to a new way of thinking. It is not a case of simply running away from it, hiding information or building impenetrable walls; it’s about understanding and taking control of your digital environment and footprint.

As set out in previous chapters of this series, ‘locking down’ your social media presence will go a long way to deterring the casual observer but to a determined detractor, your own profiles are only half of the picture.  This is because there is an array of open tools which refine the ability to search social media by examining the interactions you make with others.  Comment on enough open posts, ‘like’ enough open photos and express an interest in enough open events and your own security settings become nothing more than an inconvenience to a determined researcher.

While the requirement for disclosure of personal details and the availability of that data may appear to be an issue limited to the U.S., the fact is that many other countries are already following suit. Taking the UK as an example, the name and address under which you register your company interests are available for all to see via a general web search courtesy of the Companies House website.   The bar to have this data hidden from view by Companies House is high but for a relatively small sum you can register your business against a virtual office thus removing the need to use your private address.  Conversely, you must use your genuine credentials to register on the electoral roll but having them hidden from public view – and thus removed from aggregator sites such as -  is generally a simple request. 

It is no revelation that every mobile device has significant technological capability, from Bluetooth and movement sensing, to image recognition and geolocation data.  Increasingly, these are linked to mainstream apps which make use of the connection capability between the device and the app. That is why apps are able to make ‘helpful’ suggestions; ‘publish your photos from the party?’ for instance allows the app to reach into your phone’s image store and automatically upload the relevant photos. The relevant control settings to prevent this are all within your control but ultimately, it is in the interests of the providers that they remain ‘on’ and every update to the app or operating system will generally return them to this state.

Additionally; there remains a generational difference in attitudes to self-publishing.  Earlier this year it was reported that a US businessman, with a million dollar security team, had to change his holiday plans because his teenage daughter had published detailed location images to her social media. Those who would look to methodically target you will seldom do so by focussing on your data alone; making your friends, family and colleagues aware of your desired level of security is just as important as locking your settings or even having no accounts. 

Finally, there is one last practical and physical measure to consider; the separation of your ‘real’ and your ‘online’ data.  Your real phone number, primary email address and images of your home or work provide a stable bridge between your digital and corporeal lives. Thus, this is the first place a detractor will look when trying to build an understanding of your online profile. Mitigation in this instance is about making you less of a target. Simple steps include removing these details as far as possible or maintaining dedicated accounts to manage your social media; as this may introduce just enough friction and complexity to make a detractor look elsewhere.

We live in a socially connected world and for many there’s an inherent requirement to engage, publicly and transparently, across a variety of media.  The concepts of open interaction and total protection are, for the time being, mutually exclusive; so it falls to individuals to decide the balance of interaction required versus protection expected.  Ultimately, it is not about hiding in the shadows; it is about understanding and controlling what information you decide to put in the public domain.

To read part one of this Social Media, Theft and Ransom series, click here.

To read part two of this Social Media, Theft and Ransom series, click here.

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About the Author

Emily Williams

Senior Associate, Intelligence

​Following a successful career working for British military intelligence, Emily is able to draw on her expertise to provide clients with an in-depth analysis of their complete reputational and privacy environment.

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