Cancel culture and politics aside, one of the more brutal threats lurking in the shadows of the internet is the slander industry. All too often, unsuspecting people become victims of websites that promote slanderous, often unverified, information about individuals. This false and vilifying information lives on the internet forever and can sully an otherwise spotless reputation.
Personal information that is readily available online can be used to blackmail, slander, or steal identities. How do these websites affect someone, and how can victims fight back? The only solution may be hiring a company specializing in scrubbing the digital trail of haplessly slandered victims.
“In the age of digital reputation being what matters most, online presence and digital breadcrumbs have become of the utmost importance,” according to Laura Hoffner, chief of staff at Concentric Advisors, a security and risk management firm.
The intended impression the slander industry presents is that there is not much you can do about it when you fall within its target sites. But that is not true, she cautions. First, victims can utilize a service to identify what is out there already. Then, victims can make conscious decisions about what information to take down and what details to remain available.
“The key is, it can be your choice. You can maintain control of your digital footprint and, thus, your online identity,” Hoffner told TechNewsWorld.
Hoffner’s assessment that all is not lost if slandered by a website is not mere marketing hype. She spent 12 years as a naval intelligence officer supporting special operations around the globe. Lt. Commander Hoffner transitioned to the Naval Reserves and joined the Concentric team in the fall of 2020.
Growing Slander Network
As many victims can attest, an ecosystem of websites exists whose primary purpose is destroying reputations, confirmed Max Anderson, engagement officer for Concentric. But the endgame is more than trashing peoples’ digital reputations.
Like the seemingly constant episodes of ransomware attacks, the slander purveyors are more about making money.
“The owners of these websites do not truly care about anyone’s reputation. Their goal is to capitalize off of a victim’s self-value and the offender’s motivation,” he told TechNewsWorld.
The security agencies that specialize in slander removal or reputation management services can be legitimate businesses, he admitted. But some so-called clean-up services are no better than the slander doers.
“There are legitimate service providers helping with reputation management issues for clients who have been targeted by people with nefarious motives,” Anderson offered.
To combat this problem effectively, though, is time-consuming and quite costly. Any service offering to remove a slanderous website posting your information for a few hundred dollars is likely the same company that posted your information in the first place, he suggested.
“If not run by the same people, the website owner and the information removal consultants are working closely together to share profits,” said Anderson.
Online Reputation Has Serious Consequences
We live in a fully digital world today. A person’s online profile is always analyzed by prospective employers, friends, family, and partners.
One negative post may be easy to explain away. But it becomes much more difficult to defend your reputation when a slanderous article about you has been picked up by multiple sites, noted Anderson.
“The damage is in the volume and less about the content,” he said.
Often, people do not realize the amount of personal information that accumulates on social media and online data banks. People’s family and business activities are frequently mixed together.
Bad doers can post smug remarks and make false statements with little fear of legal or public retribution. Family photos and participation in a variety of activities provide the slander operators with a wealth of details to twist into seemingly accurate narratives.
It takes a strong commitment and resilience to intimidation to restore a slander victim’s digital reputation. A more effective protection plan is to prevent slander before it happens. Do this by safeguarding the flow of information that you yourself plant online.
Monitoring and getting out in front of any negative reputational information early is key,” Anderson advised.
Preparing for Battle
Slanderous articles tend to snowball rather quickly, noted Anderson. Concentric takes a proactive strategy for its clients to get ahead of potential attacks.
For instance, Concentric conducts regular monitoring of its clients on social media and the open web. The goal is to proactively spot and alert clients on these potentially problematic pieces.
“We also have a solution called Concentric360 that removes Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from almost 300 data brokerage sites. This makes it much more difficult for someone to dox (or doxx) you or steal your identity. We can also identify and remove impostor social media accounts,” he explained.
Of course, more strategies are needed to proactively protect people’s personal information. For example, Concentric’s intelligence teams monitor online conversations about the company’s clients. Its digital privacy teams look for and remove potentially compromising information.
“If you can find the information and take it down quickly, efforts are quite successful. The problem becomes more difficult to solve when the information has circulated across multiple websites, which are then indexed by search engines,” said Anderson.
Minimize Doxing Risk
The term Doxing has its roots in the phrase “dropping documents” and is a real problem that is not going away anytime soon.
Doxing pertains to the collection of a person’s private information across multiple platforms by an unauthorized individual. The “doxer” then publishes the information in an attempt to shame or embarrass the person or company.
The information is readily available by researching public databases, hacking, or social engineering. One of the best ways to protect yourself against a doxing attack, according to cybersecurity experts, is to control what you say online.
Sure, you have the freedom to express yourself. But you also have the choice to limit your exposure and stop giving potential attackers lots of information about you.
It is essential that you be careful about the things you post online. Efforts to conceal your true identity behind a username on social media and other online forums are seldom foolproof. Be assured that hackers can peek behind that curtain of so-called anonymity and put you in the negative spotlight.
Don’t Rely on Digital Security
The slander industry may well be considered a subset of fraud on the internet. Cybersecurity threats and many of the strategies for mitigating them are related.
One major problem with today’s approach to cybersecurity risk is the security measures being implemented are no longer effective at protecting customers from fraud, according to Robert McKay, senior vice president for risk solutions at Neustar.
“Most fraud-fighting efforts rely on the idea that peoples’ online and offline data is secure, and that is simply not true anymore,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Virtually every organization that holds personally identifiable information has been hacked at some point, he said. That means that everyone’s PII can be purchased by fraudsters on the dark web.
The easy availability of this data destroys the effectiveness of any type of authentication system that uses an individual’s knowledge of personal information — such as a social security number or email address — to determine whether that individual is who they claim to be.
Also, the same is true of the supposedly more obscure knowledge-based authentication (KBA) information typically used in challenge questions. It is not difficult for fraudsters to harvest that information from social media activity (all those online quizzes!) or by interacting with a target directly to obtain it via social engineering.
Perhaps a word to the wise is obvious here. Before it is too late, clean up your festering personal information from wherever you find it. Passwords and cyber software offer little to protect your PII online.