This is part 1 of a 3 part blog, where I share my thoughts on being in control of your Digital Life (Identity, Data and Security) and how to recover when any of them are lost. The 3 parts are broken into:

  • Being Aware (Of your Digital Life)
  • Being Prepared (for Disaster)
  • Identify, Resolve & Rebuild

By the end of the 3 parts I hope to help people understand how to secure their Digital Life. Making a 'Digital Life Disaster Recovery Plan' is probably not high on anyone's to-do list, but I would stress that it is crucial to consider and get on top of in this day and age.

Digital Life Disaster what?

What is a 'Digital Life Disaster'? It is first of all, it is a term that I've coined that encompasses 'Loss of access to a digital account' which may be any of the below scenarios:

  • Loss of access to Digital Account(s) and/or Digital Identity [such as Email Account or Social Media Account]
  • Loss of access to Telephony Account(s) [such as Mobile Number]
  • Loss of access to Digital Device[s] [Such as Smartphone or Computer]

These scenarios are devastating and can occur at anytime, anywhere and anyone. As the digital age has now surrounded us in how we interact with society, it leaves us vulnerable to attackers 24/7/365. This article will explain why and how we can be more mindful when it comes to our digital lives.

I like to think of anything we care about is something worth securing.

In our physical lives, our homes, where we live; are located at an Address, and a Key is needed to access the Door. Inside this home are our valuables, belongings and our identity. We guard our Homes and only give the key to those we trust, the same principles could be applied for your car, workplace and should also be applied to our digital lives.

Before the digital age...

We guarded the money in our Bank Accounts by keeping Bank Cards (A metaphorical Address) in our wallets, the PIN numbers (Keys) were stored in our heads and you could only access the money via Tellers or ATMs (Doors). If you found out that your Bank Card was missing from your wallet, you would call your bank to lock the cards from being used until a new one arrived. Or you found your card in the last place you left it, your pocket! (Phew! It was only a false alarm). If you needed to get a new card or PIN, you would need to call the bank or visit a local branch during business hours, perform some ID verification tests and only then would a new card would be sent to your home address on file.

Now in the digital age, anyone who knows your Bank Account access number (Address) and password (Key) may access this from anywhere in the world from your Bank's website (Door). They could mask their locations using VPNs to pretend they're from your country, use Phishing Sites or Keyloggers to silently steal valuable information from you or even Social Engineer you or your friends and family if they find out who you are through Social Media!

First you'll tell me that you would never fall for any of those tricks and that there's even more security challenges for all your accounts, in addition to Password Challenges. There are things such as SMS Auth, Mobile Phone Auth, RSA Token Auth , 2FA Mobile Apps, USB/FIDO Keys (If you know what this is, don't bother reading anymore, I'm preaching to the choir!) to name a few popular ones. I personally call these Digital Keys as they provide you access to your Digital doors!

Well, what I say to all those additional challenges of authentication is that they're only secure as the process to recover them!

Some food for thought...

What happens if I lose access to that challenge? What steps are needed to recover it?
What steps are required for someone else to steal/recover it?

A Hacker's Digital 'Red Paper Clip' Story

There's a famous true-story about a man bartering & trading his way up to a house using a Red Paper Clip; in a way, exploiting digital security can be similar. You start by finding out a little bit about someone's information starting only with a little bit of info and work your way up to taking over their identity.

A question I like to ask myself is:

"How easy is it for someone to get into an Email Account?"

But before I ask that, why would they want an Email Account? An Email Account is the starting point of a Digital Identity, it provides many of us a place to receive communications but also is the Unique User Identifier (Your Address) for other websites (Doors) to perform banking, social media, store data and is can be considered a key to your mobile smartphone.

To help paint a scenario.. Lets say you visited 'InsecureTechHelp.net' 5 years ago for some Crowd-sourced IT help. It turned out that the owner of InsecureTechHelp didn't update their website, and some hackers got access to a database of 10,000 email address and passwords which includes yours, great!

The email you used is the same email you use til this day, but the password is some throwaway password you don't care about.. there's no way an attacker could gain access your email account... Wrong!

  1. An Attacker uses your email to find your social networking pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc)
  2. They work out your friends, family, colleagues and personal information

From here they could:

  • Find out your contact details from your Public Digital Identity
  • Create a fake social media account, add your friends and find out more about you through 'Friends of Friends'
  • Create a fraud LinkedIn account as a recruiter to offer you a 'dream role' extracting further info from your Resume and/or CV even get your phone number through a 'phone interview'

If they some how got the following crucial 4 pieces of information: Full Name, Date of Birth, Home Address & Mobile Phone Number, they could get control over your Mobile Phone Number.

Many telecom providers offer the ability to 're-burn' your Phone Number to a new SIM Card if a caller can validate some simple information; if the attacker knows your network they could call up the network and using same basic challenges, take control of your phone number and use this to elevate access to other accounts.

From here it's all down-hill, they could reset the password to your Email Address so easily using your phone number if you had SMS Auth or Mobile Phone Auth as your additional challenge.

Now what's the likelihood of this occurring? I would honestly say unlikely, if you were slightly aware of security at any stages throughout your digital lifetime you could have implemented something that increases your digital security. But the internet is relentless, there are attackers and robots constantly looking for vulnerabilities whether you like it or not, the best thing is to be protected in the first place.

But what's not to say that the attacker is going to be some foreign person preying on you. Whats preventing someone you know (friend, family or colleague) from taking advantage of knowing your details? Not much, just malicious intent and some IT knowledge that can be found on Google!

Now what about the likelihood of your losing your Digital Keys? Below are some common scenarios:

  • 'You lost your mobile phone'
  • 'You forgot the password to your _____ account'

How would you get gain back access to these accounts if something went horribly wrong? Whether you lose your 'keys' to a foreign hacker or because you forgot it you still need to go through the steps to recover it, these are all similar to if you were to lose a wallet. It's a process that is more arduous more than the cost of the item lost itself.

Where do I start?

You can start by 'being aware'. Being aware does not require one to understand how 'The internet' works or how SSL cryptography will protect us [although it does help].

What it does require is to understand some principles on to be mindful on the internet and our digital places...

  • You DO have something to hide, your privacy is part of your identity, you can be in control of what the internet knows. Security is the key to keeping things private.
  • Anything you put on the internet lives forever, (publicly or privately) whether its your date of birth or some pictures; all it takes for data to live forever is a simple Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V.
  • Don't Trust Anyone, Check what you're opening, who you're talking to, where you're submitting information to... then only then trust that they can keep a secret...
  • Even Organisations! If any organisation you entrust your data to fails their security, YOU will be the person that pays the price! Do you really need to provide them your real information?
  • Anything can fail, the question is what is the likelihood and just how do you get back up to start living you life?

Reality Check

"Ok Tim, so what I've learned is that on the Internet: the floor is lava, everyone is out to get me and I can't have fun". No, I get it, paranoia is not healthy, but what IS healthy is practicing safe internet usage whilst still having fun, being responsible for the data you put out there and putting some thought into what you do.

Look out for Part II which will contain 'Being Prepared', it will look into security vs convenience, how to walk that balance in life and how to deal with the inevitable.