What is a Digital Identity?

A digital identity is an online likeness or an electronic file that contains personally identifiable information, or PII. The Digital Identity is an identity utilized in cyberspace across a variety of communities, businesses, and workflows. It is comprised of attributes including but not limited to username/password, social security number, date of birth, online activities (search, transactions, purchasing history, behavior), and medical history. This identity is often linked to an individual’s email address or URL, and keeping this identity safe and secure is a crucial issue across sectors.

Digital Identity Defined

Broadly speaking, your identity is what makes you “you.” It is what distinguishes you from others, and it consists of everything about you, from your name to your appearance, even the sound of your voice. A few other aspects that define a person’s identity include a Social Security number, a Driver’s License or ID number, and birth date. 

All of these factors, however, only make up a person’s physical identity. People have also developed a digital identity by creating various accounts and interacting with brands across the internet, participating in the digitization of information. Understanding what a digital identity includes is critical to protecting it. 

What Is Digital Identity?

A digital identity is the collection of all of the information about an individual that exists online. A person’s digital identity is primarily made up of personally identifiable information (PII). 

A few examples of PII include factors such as:

  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Bank account numbers
  • Login credentials
  • Driver’s License number
  • Passport number
  • Biometric data (fingerprints or facial recognition information)

Additionally, browsing habits shape your digital identity. For instance, a person logs into their favorite news website every morning at 6:00 A.M. That habit can be used by networks to identify both a person and the device that they use. 

Websites, banks, and other institutions use digital identity data to protect PII, which they achieve by implementing identity verification processes. An example of one would be the facial recognition or fingerprint scanning software that is installed on most smartphones.

People are not the only ones with digital identities, as electronic devices and organizations also have their own unique digital identities. 

what is digital identity: actions, physical characteristics, passwords, personal info, contextual info, and device data
What is digital identity?

Digital Identity vs. Digital Accounts

Digital identities and digital accounts are similar in that both contain PII and confidential data. In addition, both help users gain access to a network, platform, or site. That is where the similarities end, however.

Typically, a user account is assigned to a specific network and requires some sort of authentication process, such as entering a password or scanning a fingerprint. Individuals likely have a dozen or more active user accounts, such as personal and business email accounts or digital bank accounts. Even if individuals reuse the same username and password for multiple accounts, each account is still distinct from the others. 

Though a digital account is a specific type of digital identity, it does not represent a person’s entire online presence. Conversely, a digital identity refers to someone’s entire online footprint. Every file, account, or piece of data that contains PII about a person composes your digital identity. 

Types of Digital Identity

There are three primary types of digital identities, which include:

Human Digital Identities

A human digital identity enables access to a network and its capabilities. There are several subtypes of this identity category, including employee identities, customer identities, and partner identities. 

Machine Identities

Machine identities enable software, applications, robots, servers, and other devices to authenticate themselves within a network or system. Your mobile device has a unique machine identity, which servers or networks use to recognize your device and determine whether it is authorized to access said network. 

Cloud Identities

Cloud identities are dynamic accounts that are used to access cloud-based computing resources. Cloud identities can belong to either machines or humans. 

Digital Identifiers

Digital identifiers form the foundation of digital identity, and each reveals something about an individual, their usage habits, or the device they use. In the corporate setting, a digital identity will be composed of direct identifiers that include:

  • Date of birth
  • Name
  • Job title
  • Social Security number

When navigating the digital ecosystem as a consumer, a digital identity may also include your:

  • Browsing data
  • Shopping behavior
  • Geographical location
  • Demographic information

Adding these extra data points to the digital identity enables brands to better market their products to individuals and subsequently monitor buying habits. 

Digital Identity Protection Best Practices 

Protecting a digital identity is critical to avoid being exploited by bad actors. There are numerous ways that you can better protect your digital identity and the PII it is composed of. 

Specifically, we recommend that you do the following:

Assess Your Risk

The first step toward protecting your PII involves assessing a risk. Individuals must be aware of the exact number of active online accounts they have. If a person uncovers some old accounts that are no longer needed, they should be deactivated. Doing so will help reduce exposure to cyber threats. 

Alter Your Usernames and Passwords

Not all entities take the same measures to protect identity. For instance, a person’s financial institution probably uses far more robust security measures than a favorite e-commerce store.

That is just one of the many reasons that people should use different username and password combinations on each website visited and regularly used. If a hacker steals the login credentials of one of a person’s digital accounts, they should not be able to reuse that data to hijack that individual’s entire digital identity. 

Conceal Your Identity

People should proactively work to hide their digital identity through a process called identity obfuscation, which involves using private browsing modes, privacy filters, or other tools to prevent sites from tracking your browsing history or harvesting your PII. Concealing identity will shrink an individual’s digital footprint and make it harder for criminals to get their hands on sensitive data. 

Use Additional Authentication Methods

One of the best ways to safeguard digital identity is to implement authentication measures, such as biometric and knowledge-based authentication

A hacker may be able to get their hands on a username and password, but it is incredibly difficult to circumvent biometric authentication tools like a facial recognition application or fingerprint scanner. 

By leveraging all of these best practices, people can significantly reduce their exposure to cyber threats and protect digital identity.