One of our writers took on the mammoth task of attempting to consolidate his cyberself – his multiple digital online accounts, or “cyberselves” as we like to call them here at ProtectMe. Read how a simple Google security alert led to the discovery of over 300 online accounts and the effort to get them under control.
Google Chrome says check your passwords…
…and so I did!
It all started when I received a notification from my Google Chrome browser informing me that a data breach on a site or app had exposed my password. The notification advised me to go in and immediately change it.
This was no surprise to me. Even though I live in the world of cybersecurity, I still roll the dice with what I’ll call “less risky” online platforms that really don’t have any of my personal data or that I want to easily be able to log into (e.g. streaming services).
So I decided to take a look to see which account had been compromised. To my shock, my Google Chrome password manager had identified almost a hundred unique accounts as potentially at risk due to a data breach on another site/service.
It didn’t surprise me that this particular username and password combination might have been compromised…that combo has been paired together since my early days exploring the internet.
What did surprise me was the revelation by my Google Chrome of the number of unique accounts I had living out there in the digital world
…and those were just the ones that had been potentially compromised!
Spoiler alert! Many more online accounts will be found by the end of this journey…specifically, three times as many!
Over 300 online profiles. What’s the big deal?
It is hard to first fathom at first what 300 little digital you’s (online accounts) even looks like, let alone the risk that the dormant ones can pose to you. This collection of online accounts is something we will refer to as your “cyberself’ – the online persona(s) you have created with which you interact with the digital world.
In general, the greater your cyberself, the more your risk exposure increases in your physical life.
This can be from companies exploiting your privacy without your consent, hackers taking over your accounts and data, or loss of your actual identity through fraud committed in your name.
Of the many risks from having unnecessary digital online accounts is the fact that many people use the same username and password combination to access the many accounts that make up their cyberself. In fact, according to Security Magazine, 53% of people admit to using the same password across multiple accounts!
Imagine if you had hundreds of physical keys on a keychain that you used to open various doors and drawers within your house. That would first look ridiculous, but also be impossible to manage. However, if you’re using the same key for your front door as well as every other locked door and drawer in your house, what is the point of all those other keys anyways?
The goal of a consolidated cyberself
The concept of online privacy is still relatively new for some people and often takes on many different forms, depending on the type of government you reside under. Privacy is made more difficult because of the fact that your many cyberselves can easily be correlated across the internet to build a digital persona of you.
For me, the risk of a breach did not concern me so much because, in general, all of my high-risk accounts (banking, social media, email, etc.) leverage unique passwords and some form of two-factor authentication.
What concerned me the most was that information about me exists on so many platforms.
Some may argue that it really doesn’t matter because your data is going to get hacked anyways. Others may feel like since they have no dubious online activity, therefore they have nothing to lose if someone gets a hold of one of their accounts.
However, it could be argued that someday you may have something to lose if, for example, an attacker manages to correlate compromised data from various platforms to build a digital persona of you that could be used to compromise both your cyberself and physical self.
I was genuinely curious about how my cyberself had grown to 300 online profiles.
After going through all the stages of grief and asking myself how I could have ever let my cyberself get out of control this badly, I finally jumped back on the horse and was ready to start consolidating my cyberself. I had some time on my hands after all (thanks COVID!).
To help guide my efforts I set the following three goals:
- To figure out the extent of my cyberself; how many online accounts did I actually have out there?
- To protect my highest risk online accounts with strong passwords and enforce my privacy as applicable.
- To delete or secure the remaining online accounts.
Little did I know that these goals, though simple on the surface, would actually be relatively hard to achieve, beginning with figuring out the true extent of my cyberself.
In Part 2 of this 3-part series, you’ll find out how I got on with these goals.
Read Part 2: How to Find Your Digital Online Accounts