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Digital Footprints and Digital Shadows

Back when Al and I started Digital Shadows in 2011, we were following inspiration in part from developments in security research: the early days of ‘google hacking’ pioneered by Jonny Long; the manipulation of social media as a means of attacking organizations identity; and the fast-developing role that data aggregation was playing in online criminality, fraud, and extortion. We saw how the reconnaissance phase of security testing witnessed a new set of tools, such as Paterva’s Maltego, FOCA and the recon tools packaged with Kali Linux, all were beginning to use the term OSINT (or Open Source Intelligence) to refer to activities that discovered new attack surfaces to be exploited. We were convinced this was evidence of real exploitation of the concept of de-perimeterization (a term coined through the earlier work of the Jericho forum.)

In the broadest sense, digital footprints were expanding as companies sought to benefit from the scale, efficiency, and opportunity bought by new ‘as-a-service’ supply models that commoditized infrastructure and software. Combine this with the new commercial opportunity presented by digital innovation that engaged with more customers through a whole new range of online and social channels, and it’s easy to see why this phenomenon was happening.

We recognized this new world came with new risks that the old castle wall model of security was failing to deliver on. We quickly settled on the word ‘digital shadows’ to refer to these risks, hence the name of the company today. I often joked that I’d buy a beer for the first person who helped me get ‘digital shadow’ into the Oxford English dictionary. (I still will by the way!)


The Emergence of Digital Risk and Digital Risk Protection

Over the last few years we’ve seen consultancies, analysts, and others converge on a discussion specifically about the new types of risk that have arisen from digital transformation programs. The term digital risk absolutely resonated with us – we found ourselves discussing how we can begin managing these digital risks with Gartner, Forrester, IDC, ESG, and others.

We see a de-perimeterized world, where critical data assets exist beyond the perimeter. Our approach has always been to limit the opportunities afforded to adversaries, and to enable organizations to detect data loss, secure their online brand, and reduce their attack surfaces. If we can combine this with the understanding of the threat, we’re in a far better position to reducing the new risks that have emerged from digital transformation efforts.

To us and others, Digital Risk Protection is all about the reduction of risks that emerge from digital transformation, protecting against the exposure of assets, and giving actionable insight to threats across the open, deep, and dark web.


Evolutions in Threat Intelligence

Since 2011, we’ve also witnessed the maturation of the Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) industry into a better-defined space. We saw different methods for its production, be that from open sources or an evolution from digital forensics from on-network to off-network activities. The industry that was built on existing indicator capabilities then further evolved towards a focus on attacker behavior through frameworks like MITRE ATT&CK, which provides a common language to understand behaviors of the threat to ensure defenses can be better aligned to real-world observations.

However, as I outline in our new “A Practical Guide to Reducing Digital Risk“, behavior is just one aspect of threat, alongside motivation, capabilities, and opportunity. In intelligence we continue to invest in understanding behavior, but by exploring digital shadows we can also better understand the latter aspect – opportunity, which is also important.

Introducing the Practical Guide to Digital Risk

Protecting against unwanted exposure can be daunting for security teams, especially when they’re being asked to address these new problems with the same tooling and processes that were deployed for the previous generation of online initiatives. A Practical Guide to Reducing Digital Risk outlines tools, services, and approaches that teams can use to assist with this.

What we’ve attempted to do with this document is record some of useful things that we discovered along the way, and consolidate some of the feedback and learnings we’ve had from our prospects and customers who’ve embarked on their own journeys. Hopefully it will be useful for others exploring these risks. Our intention is to continue to iterate this document and grow it. We’ve published this document under a creative commons license, so you may feel free to use the content with attribution to us.

In everything we do, we thrive on feedback, and therefore I have only one ask of you in exchange for this document. Please do let us know what you think, give us feedback at If you have additions or suggestions, please let us know we’ll happily include your content and reference you in the process.