In general, people are pretty good at telling lies. People lie to their significant others, their bosses, their co-workers, and friends. They even lie to the authorities. Lying comes naturally for most people, especially when the lie will help protect them from a perceived negative consequence. I am not a psychologist, but after spending many years on this planet, I believe this statement is true. With all this deception going on though, telling a believable lie or one that is not easily detected may not be something that everyone does well. This post is not about the art of deception. I wanted to discuss something I have observed about truth telling that I think is interesting and relevant to operational security and protecting your personal information.
I have found that while most people naturally lie pretty easily, there is one scenario where “most people” seem to naturally want to tell the truth. You are signing up for a loyalty card at your neighborhood supermarket and you are asked to provide your name, address, phone number, etc, on the form you are filling out. You are buying a can of paint at Home Depot and the cashier asks for your phone number. You are signing up for a new email account and providing your real name and personal information to the provider. You buy a new computer, phone, tablet, or e-reader and set up the user accounts and cloud services with your personal details. You get your oil change and tire rotation done at your local repair shop and provide all of your personal information to the cashier for their “records”. The list of examples are endless, and they happen every day. When asked by a retailer, online service provider, and so on…people tend to provide real, truthful information about themselves when asked for it.
Every accurate piece of information you give out is collected and stored forever by the smallest retailer to the largest data broker. That information becomes a permanent record of your “profile” and it, along with all of the other truthful pieces of information that are collected about you, are a very valuable commodity. Your personal details are bought, sold, and traded for “legitimate business purposes”, and for less than legitimate purposes. Your personal information also ends up online in publicly accessible data bases for all the world to see. Why is it that people tend to provide their real information when asked for it directly? I wish I had the answer, but I hope you can see how dangerous that is.
This is an excellent article about data brokers called “Meet the Stalkers” by Jeff Saginor (LINK) Security expert and journalist Brian Krebs has also written some valuable information about ‘The value of a hacked email account’ (LINK) and another on ‘The value of a hacked PC’ (LINK).
If protecting your personal information and removing it from the internet is important to you, the first step in accomplishing that is to STOP GIVING OUT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION. There is absolutely no reason why Home Depot needs your real phone number to sell you a can of paint. Very few entities need factual information about you in order to provide you their services or sell you products. Lying to the government may be illegal, but aside from a government agency or financial institution, you should change your habits now. Keep in mind that every piece of data can lead to another piece of data about you, and so on. An email, leads to real name, which leads to other accounts you have and your home address, phone number, etc, etc. Even a photograph of you online can lead a person to your physical location if that photo also contains meta data that can be analyzed for GPS or other data.
The possibilities to find you, track you, and gather intelligence about you for whatever purpose are endless when your real information is available. Entire books have been written on these subjects alone and are far beyond the scope of this post. Stop giving out your personal information if safety and security are important to you. Be prepared to use an alias name, address, phone number, and email address. Tell a little lie, and safeguard the real details about your life.