The world wide web has changed massively since its inception and continues to grow and evolve at an amazing rate.
At its core though it is still just the way it was designed – it is, ultimately, a tool for communication and the sharing of data. That basic premise has not changed, even though the delivery methods may be unrecognisable to the early pioneers of the net.
One of the biggest plus points of the internet is the access it gives us to information we may never have otherwise had (for instance, my own obsession with ancient history has been well and truly fed by the net, as has my interest in security topics of course), or could only obtain at great cost in terms of either time and/or money.
Where, in the past, research could be a laborious task it is, nowadays, often a case of clicking a mouse a few times and double-checking sources.
But one thing you need to be mindful of is the fact that the internet doesn’t just archive and store other people’s data. It stores your’s too.
Every time you interact with the web you are sending your own information out there and there is every chance of that data being accessible to other people for all time.
Think what that means in terms of Facebook status updates, careless tweets or accidentally indexing your entire hard drive:
RT @mubix: Sharing your C drive on the internet over HTTP, fail, having Google index it. Uberfail: http://t.co/sktuLyFUGn
— BH Consulting (@bhconsulting) January 21, 2014
This is why you need to know what the internet knows about you.
If you are careless with your personal information and don’t regularly check what the internet knows about you then any concerns you may have over the recent government surveillance revelations will be rendered rather moot by your own actions.
In fact, many people are incredibly naive when it comes to the internet and have no idea what can be found out about them with even simple research via the major search engines.
Using a simple Google search to learn what is published about you could, therefore, prove to be a real eye opener. Depending upon how lax you have been about your own privacy you may discover that real sensitive information is available, such as your home address, phone number, travel plans (yes, house thieves do use the net), family connections, work and a whole lot more besides.
For this reason it is imperative that you learn what information about you is available online.
Its not just potential burglars you have to worry about, its online thieves too. If information about online financial accounts can be discovered then a potential thief could use personal data, such as your mother’s maiden name, or the name of your favourite pet, to circumvent security controls.
But its not only the bad guys you have to worry about when it comes to leaving a trail of data on the web.
Potential new employers are increasingly using the internet to build a picture of potential new recruits. For many people this presents a golden opportunity with which they can build a personal profile that really sells them into jobs that may otherwise have been unable to obtain. For the more careless it can spell disaster as their drunken nights out come to light via social messages, ill-advised photograph sharing and boasts of nights in the cells in their youth.
A thorough search of the internet can reveal a huge amount of information about, and it may well be that some of it could come as a surprise and be the type of data you wish was not publicly available.
If so, you may have a hard time dealing with it, but knowledge of it is certainly a required first step. After that luck, investigation and some good people skills can be your allies as you contact sites that host your information and look for the means of removing your damaging data from their sites.
After that you just need to remember that there are little to no secrets on the web and everything you make public stays that way.
Be careful what you do and say online – you only get one chance to define yourself and make a lasting impression.