What is Doxxing and What Are The Dangers?
When the internet was introduced to the world people were excited. Suddenly a plethora of information was at their fingertips without limitations. Since then the World Wide Web has transformed over the years and so has the way we use it. One thing is for sure though. The ability to remain anonymous online is something that has drawn people in for years now.
This is evident in social media, with people writing harsh and cruel comments protected by the cloak of anonymity. Revealing the identity of such people is how some individuals have decided to fight back. Finding out all sorts of information about a specific person such as their real name, workplace, home address and even phone number is known as doxxing.
What Does Doxxed Mean?
What is Doxxing and what does it mean when you are doxed? This method has been used for the past two decades, mostly by hackers, in order to identify other hackers in order to get them arrested for illegal activity. Now, doxxing has become a huge threat to anyone using the internet, designed to harass, embarrass or even get revenge on victims.
Online vigilantism has been around since the early days of the internet. So has “doxxing” — originally a slang term among hackers for obtaining and posting private documents about an individual, usually a rival or enemy. To hackers, who prized their anonymity, it was considered a cruel attack.
“Originally it was little black-hat hacker crews who were at war with each other — they would take docs, like documents, from a competing group and then claim they had ‘dox’ on them,” said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who wrote a book about the hacker vigilante group Anonymous. “There was this idea that you were veiled and then uncovered. Now the online hunt to reveal extremists has raised concerns about unintended consequences, or even collateral damage.”
Organized, large doxxing attacks have targeted celebrities and even caused momentous financial losses for organizations. But how can searching, collecting and publishing someone’s personal information online be legal? If the information you find and publish is publically available and not used in a negative manner then it’s perfectly legal.
On the other hand, if you use it in a way to harm others you could be facing jail time under state criminal laws. When white supremacists marched with torches in Charlottesville in 2017 onlookers considered doxxing to be a beneficial tool for people to rethink their unapologetic racism.
Marla Wilson, 35, of San Francisco, said she was appalled when she saw white supremacists marching so brazenly in Charlottesville. Doxxing, she believed, was an effective way to make people think twice about being so bold with their racism.
“Some of what is happening now will make these white supremacists realize why their grandparents wore hoods,” Ms. Wilson said. “At least then there was shame.”
The ethics — and even the definition — of doxxing is murky. It is the dissemination of often publicly available information. And, some at the protest asked, are you really doxxing a person if he or she is marching on a public street, face revealed and apparently proud? It is not as though they are hiding their identities.”
Kyle Quin, a biomedical engineer at the University of Arkansas was one of the people wrongly identified at the rally. In truth, the person taking part looked somewhat similar and it was all a case of mistaken identity, but the damage was already done.
“But as Quinn’s name and university faculty photo circulated with viral ferocity alongside the picture of the man with the Arkansas shirt, angry emails, and voice messages started coming in. He was called names. Threats were made. Someone even “doxxed” him, released his home address and phone number. “Then it just became making sure everyone is safe,” Quinn says.”
This form of targeted abuse has transformed from a hacker on hacker attack to people focusing mostly on those in the public eye. Normally affecting famous people such as actors, musicians, YouTubers as well as social media celebrities.
Kim Kardashian was one of those celebrities that was a doxxing target back in 2013. The people responsible posted information like her current address, her previous six addresses, credit report, social security number as well as a picture of her mortgage statement. Other famous faces that have been targeted include Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Michelle Obama, Donald Trump, Ashton Kutcher, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden.
There is a huge problem with doxxing where a lack of information or assuming something can lead to a group of people attacking the wrong individual for something they haven’t done. Arguing with someone or trolling on social media can lead to hate campaigns, bullying and sometimes even physical violence. Now that you know what doxxing is, it is vital to work out how you can keep yourself from being a target of such attacks.
How to Protect Yourself From Doxxing Attacks?
Doxxing happens when certain information is publically available on the internet. Taking that into consideration, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the possibility of this happening to you.
Update Your Social Media Privacy
Sure, social media might play a big role in your life today. Realistically millions of people spend a number of hours a day communicating with both loved ones and strangers on the internet. What you don’t know is that these strangers could be hackers that have doxxing intentions.
“A characteristic of many of these online communities is that people are encouraged to share information online. Facebook wants to know where you work, where you go to school, where you are now etc. These are all very personal details. The success of doxing is the availability of this information. What has been put online, usually stays in the ether forever. This puts pressure on the responsibility tasks of social networks in protecting this information. A recent court case cleared Facebook from the claim that they violated the privacy of 25,000 people.”
Try and keep your profiles private and remove any information on your profiles that could be linked to your place of work or home address. These people relish in getting their hands on your personal photos, emails, phone numbers for a start so why take the risk. Avoid the dangers on Facebook and other social media platforms set your posts to friends only and only share with people who aren’t likely to publicly post your sensitive information.
Keep Your Software Updated
Hackers will always try to find new ways to install malware onto your device with the hope of getting their hands on your personal information, payment details, and passwords. Old systems are vulnerable to these attacks so it is important to update your software making the likelihood of this happening to you much lower.
Use Secure Passwords
Having a simple password might be easier to remember, but it is also much easier to crack especially for someone that knows what they’re doing. Your photos on social media will tell a thousand stories, so let’s remember to leave out your age, partner or dog name or your favorite location out of the mix.
Your password should contain at least 12 characters with a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols to make it more complex. If you cannot remember multiple complex passwords it might be an idea to look into password managers. All you will need to remember is one master password and your password manager will take care of the rest.
Remove Unwanted Apps or Extensions
Both mobile apps and browser extensions are well known to collect user data, which is spelled out to you prior to you downloading those apps or extensions, but it is rarely something people pay attention to. Take a closer look at the small print when it comes to apps that you don’t use and remove the ones that are no longer useful to you.
You can also use Family Link, an app by Google which allows parents to manage apps, block adult content and review app permissions on Android devices. Family Link will also allow you to set screen time limits and see the location of active Android devices.
Use Disposable Details
A lot of sites will ask for your personal information and even contact details when signing up for their service. If you need to temporarily use a site make sure to limit the information you share.
Create a burner email address in order to keep your actual email addresses from being spammed and spied on.
Remove Information in the EU
If you’re living in Europe you can actually fill out a form that will get Google to remove any search results that are related to you. Since May 2018, new EU directives by the name of the General Data Protection Regulation have made it a lot harder for companies to get ahold of your information. Those companies that do not protect your information in a sufficient manner can have lawsuits filed against them.
Avoid Posting on Controversial Forums
Although we all have opinions and there is an abundance of freedom online one of the best ways to avoid doxxing is to refrain from entering any discussions that may be deemed controversial on a public forum.
If you insist on taking part in such discussions make sure to remove any information or details that can be tied to your, your family or friends as they can also come under fire. Instead of broadcasting your views online why not take action in real life and go to meetings that attempt to make a change in real life.
Best Ways to Keep Yourself From Doxxing Attacks
Whilst all of the above-mentioned steps are great to keep yourself safe there are really only two ways of staying truly protected on the internet and that is through a great antivirus and a VPN.
McAfee is one of the world’s most trusted antivirus software companies that can aid you in avoiding doxxing. Speaking of the dangers of doxxing on their blog it was revealed that there are people who do this for a living.
“A data broker is exactly what it sounds like: a service online that collects data assembles the data into readable parts, and sells the data to a buyer. For doxxing, data brokers often collect different pieces of information, like names on social networks, phone numbers associated with a household and addresses to construct a profile of a person. Most of the time they’re accurate. And for $20, more or less, a person can buy the data detailing someone else’s life.”
Some of the features available from McAfee that can help you when online include:
- Device lock security
- Thief camera (takes a photo of the thief)
- Remotely wipes data
- Map location service
- Anti-theft uninstall protection
- Safeguard your online privacy under unsecured network
- Blocks access to risky websites
- Securely locks apps with sensitive content
- Phone support
- Media Upload
- No ads
- Controls which apps guests can see on your device
Another fantastic way to look after yourself and the whole family when online is through a Virtual Private Network. A VPN is an invaluable tool that will protect you from cybercrime by encrypting your online data and rerouting your traffic through to another location so that you’re not visible to your ISP, the authorities or those pesky hackers.
One of the best VPNs on the market right now is ExpressVPN. With more than 3,000 servers worldwide in over 160 locations, you can be sure that you will always have a server connection available to you. With perfect scores when it comes to speed, user-friendliness, and customer service as well as top of the art military-grade security, you cannot go past ExpressVPN for your online security needs.
It’s irrefutable that there are a growing number of threats on the internet and if you ask people blatantly whether they’re willing to share sensitive information with you in real life, they are normally very reluctant to do so. However, on the internet, it seems to be a different story with individuals leaving details about their lives for people to find left, right and center.
Know that you know what being doxed means and how to avoid it, you can keep yourself and your loved ones truly protected by investing in a reliable antivirus program and a VPN.