Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- LinkedIn offers help with finding a job. Facebook can connect you with friends. Twitter provides a platform for quick messages to the world. The era of instant information has created plenty of opportunities...and pitfalls.
From social media to search engines, it's getting easier to find instant information about your buddies, neighbors, jobseekers, and strangers.
Four volunteers from different backgrounds let an information security engineer do a little digging.
Francis, a grad student, considers himself a private guy who is careful about what he puts online. But, Griffin Reid of Secure Network Technologies, makes a living staying one step ahead of hackers.
“I used [Francis] as a pivot point to find out more information about his wife. I saw where she lived, her relatives, and her job position. Then I could use that information to target him,” Reid said.
An E-bay account reveals that Francis enjoys rock climbing. His Facebook page shows pictures of friends scaling a mountain.
“I could send him an e-mail saying we notice that you are interested in rock climbing, here are a few items that we want you to take a look at. Once he clicks, we could infect his machine,” Griffin explained.
Francis was surprised that so much information is revealed in public records and admits his social media pages could help a stranger gather too many personal details.
“Once you put all these things together in the right way, if you have somebody with bad intentions, you are in trouble,” Francis said.
Clifford, a laborer, is more laid back. A simple search on Google uncovered his criminal record.
“There are some people on there that would probably not want to be tied to me. It's the past you know. I'm not going to lie,” Clifford said.
There were several past addresses tied to Clifford online, including the time he lived in another state. He was stunned when we found the name of a former girlfriend.
"I was really stuck on that one person who you found and how she was brought up in my records because we never shared any public information together, no paperwork or anything. But, we dated for four years and her name came up and I'm still kind of boggled by that," Clifford said.
Robert, a retired firefighter, made the mistake of posting upcoming plans out of town on his social media profile. He also has a few embarrassing Facebook posts that he thought only friends could see. Robert was wrong. Anyone can see what he’s posting.
“Businesses, you know when you’re applying for a job, could read this too and that could make or break you,” Robert said.
Kelly, the youngest of our volunteers, is looking for a job. She "really toned things down" online a year ago, after her mother's house was robbed. The crime felt like a breach of security in her private life.
Kelly’s address, phone number, and neighbors can be found in public records online, but with a common name, she was harder to pin down on social media.
“I signed up for Facebook in 2007. I was too young to think about what Facebook would be and now I know I can't delete my profile,” Kelly said. "I really wish I could delete it, but I can't."
Many sites keep you on file long after accounts are deleted. Francis signed into Google recently and discovered all the information they're holding onto.
“They had been tracking everything I'd ever searched on Google for years and I saw all these searches from months ago and years ago,” Francis said.
Griffin doesn't have a social media profile and he doesn't want one.
“A person may look at that and say 'That's fine. I put it out there. It's not a big deal.' My response to that is, it is a big deal because what I can do with that information is much more than simply viewing your date of birth. I can take that information and leverage it in many ways to gain more information,” Griffin said.
There are companies that offer to clear your name online. Those services include asking websites to remove bad content, but there are no guarantees. Businesses may promise to push negative posts lower if someone Googles your name, so positive information appears toward the top of the list.
Reid was skeptical with one company that asked for a lot of personal information, the kind of details he encourages people to avoid sharing with anyone online. Some services advertise monitoring for as much as $1,000 per month. Reid emphasizes that there are no guarantees that information can be removed once it's uploaded. Social media is a major source of posts, photos, and personal details that can haunt people for years.
"They are their own worst enemy by putting their information out there. Obviously, the only information I can obtain is the information that they divulge themselves," Reid advised.