Home » Is it bad practice to use your real name online?

Is it bad practice to use your real name online?


This is actually an interesting new field in infosec – reputation management.

  • Employers, Law Enforcement and other government agencies, legal professionals, the press, criminals and others with an interest in your reputation will be observing all online activity associated with your real name.

  • These “interested parties” (snoops) are usually terrible at separating professional and personal life, so you could be made to suffer for unpopular opinions, political or religious convictions, associates or group affiliations they consider “unsavory”, and any behavior that can be interpreted in the most uncharitable light. (Teachers have been forced to resign for drinking wine responsibly while vacationing in Europe. No, really.)

  • Conversely, you need an online presence, otherwise you will be made to suffer for a lack of things for the snoops to spy on – employers, especially (from Forbes):

Key takeaway for hiring employers: The Facebook page is the first
interview; if you don’t like a person there, you probably won’t like
working with them. The bad news for employers, though, who are hoping
to take the Facebook shortcut: “So many more profiles are restricted
in what the public can access,” says Kluemper.

  • You must carefully balance your public and private personas. Give as little information as possible in your public persona, and be mindful that unknown entities who may be antagonistic toward you will look to use whatever you put online against you. For instance – you announce you’re going to visit relatives for the weekend! Robbers and vandals may take notice (from Ars Technica:)

39-year-old Candace Landreth and 44-year-old Robert Landreth Jr.
allegedly used Facebook to see which of their friends were out of
town. If a post indicated a Facebook friend wasn’t home, the two broke
into that friend’s house and liberated some of their belongings.

  • Social media companies such as Facebook and Google have proven to be hostile to the notion of privacy, and continually change their terms of service and “privacy settings” without consent to share more and more of your information with others. You cannot rely on them to protect your public reputation from your personal life. From NBC:

The Internet search giant is changing its terms of service starting
Nov. 11. Your reviews of restaurants, shops and products, as well as
songs and other content bought on the Google Play store could show up
in ads that are displayed to your friends, connections and the broader
public when they search on Google.

The company calls that feature “shared endorsements.”

  • It is best to offer information of a more personal nature pseudonymously, and keep the pseudonym(s) carefully firewalled from your real identity. Avoid major social media services when participating online pseudonymously if at all possible.

Using your real name does not cause any harm to you. You do’t have to pay for bad deeds done by an impostor.

So, using your real name online is not a bad practise, it depends on your wish. But the information you share is the real key.

Let us say that you have a blog or social network account with your real name. And you’d share information like the places you work/live, your likes/dislikes, your school/college/degree, photos, etc., it is an unending list.

These information can give a overall picture of you (of your real name). So there is a high possibility of an attacker(if you are targeted) misusing your name in such a way that you will have to suffer.

A sample scenario:

Let us assume that the attacker has gathered all of your information from your social network accounts, your personal blogs, etc.,
He creates a social network account with all your information and obviously with your info and picture.

He send requests to the friends listed in your profile. Atleast some of them will accept the request since it represents you.

Then he starts impersonating you in chats,mail and whatever and misbehaving with your friends and eventually your reputation starts spoiling (The worst thing is, you don’t even realize whats going on until it becomes a terrible issue).

Later, you will face a hard time proving that it was not you but a fake one.

Bottom Line: Using real name online is not a bad practice; Using your real information may be.

NOTE: I am not saying that you should not share your information online, i am just reminding you that it is at your own risk and there are better chances for getting hacked when you give out more information.

Using your real name is not only safe, it’s important for you to do so. Just bear in mind that you don’t want to simply attach your name to all your activities, you want to build and cultivate your online identity.

Take the sad case of hapless, hopeless Rick Santorum. He was (and possibly still is) a politician with hopes for fame and power and sights on the US Presidency. He also has extreme political views that make him extraordinarily unpopular with many people; including most tech-savvy people in particular. Rick never cultivated much of an online presence until his presidential campaign made it important to do so. By then it was too late. Google can tell you the rest.

His case may be an extreme one, but the root of the problem is that no online identity existed until it was created by those he disagreed with. This made it trivial for those people to craft his online image however they wanted. And while it’s unlikely his political career would ever have gone anywhere to begin with, this issue helped bring about its early demise.

In other words, Whether or not you ever use your real name online, other people will. And if they’re the only people talking about you, theirs is the only message that will be heard.

If you establish a public identity, an authentic identity, your story told first-hand, then others will have a place to look to see the story as told by you. This includes friends, followers, employers, employees, investors, police and investigators, and the curious general public. The more complete and established and extensive your visible identity is, the more credible it becomes. A couple of blog entries and a Google+ profile doesn’t cut it.

Just bear in mind that everything you put out there for the world to read you’re publishing for the world to read, just like printing it on the front page of the newspaper. Keep yourself safe accordingly, but still say something.

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