How to find confidential information online


I want to impress my friends by showing off that I can find secret and confidential information online. I’m not a hacker, but want to seem like one. Help! How do I search for secret info online, Dave?

Well, I’m hardly going to tell you the ins and outs of how to be a hacker (though I will say that in my world, “hacker†is benign and describes someone who is interested in exploring data, sites and the network, not someone who is malicious and disseminating viruses, ransomware or shutting down power grids). Nonetheless, it’s up to every single person who uses the Internet to learn how to manage their own data privacy and security, so there are some really rudimentary sorts of “hacker searches†that I will share, along with some commentary.

First thing to think about is what are the common words and phrases that people use to describe the kind of information you seek? What kinds of files are they likely to use? For example, “CDL†is commonly used as an acronym for “California Driver’s License†(or other states whose names begin with C, of course) and “SSN†is a likely column header for a spreadsheet or data table with social security numbers.

More fundamentally, though, you can just search for “secret†or “top secret†or “confidential†and see what comes up. That’s a big, wide, search, however, so this is an example of knowing how to do more sophisticated searches on Google is beneficial. Filetype lets you choose results that are just a specific type of file (for example “filetype:doc†or “filetype:docx†gives you just Microsoft Word documents). There are plenty of filetypes to try too, as detailed on this page: Google File Types.

The other addition I really like is site, which lets you specify a domain or even a TLD (top level domain) like “edu†or “mil†or “gov†for educational institutions, military Web sites or government Web sites, respectively.

Add them all together and here’s my Google search:

You can search for other words, if course, but this is a search for what are known as comma separated value (CSV) files, a common export filetype from Excel and other spreadsheet programs. It’s limited to only gov sites, any site thats domain ends with “.govâ€.

You figure that there won’t be any results, right? Surprise. There are. Here are a couple:

That third one looks interesting, something about administration salaries for people who work for the State of New Jersey. A click and here’s what you can see:

It’s ugly but it’s also names, addresses, titles, and annual salaries of hundreds of New Jersey employees. Probably shouldn’t be out in the public eye like this but that’s another story…

Anyway, I won’t go any further, but you get the idea. If you want, just do some searches for the kind of information you think would be “confidential†or “secret†or similar. But be careful and remember that finding this info and sharing it with others are two different things. Don’t do something dumb just to impress your friends!

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