How doxxing exposes personal data against users’ will
Doxxing takes advantage of publicly available information on users. The web is a firehose of data, containing billions of records on each of us. Individually, this data might not trigger any alarms. However, what happens when you become the subject of thorough research? Intrusive entities might gather your personally identifiable data and share it with the rest of the world without your consent. It might not seem like a big deal: that information is already in the public domain. Unfortunately, doxxing can ruin people’s reputation, highlight their past or lead to unemployment.
What is doxxing?
Doxxing (or doxing) is a modern abbreviation of the “dropping dox” phrase that referred to hackers’ old-fashioned revenge tactics against their opponents. This practice relates to a form of harassment used to expose people’s data and their activities. The stimulus for doxxing can vary: to humiliate, expose unlawful actions, or cause physical or psychological harm.
For instance, your posts and images on social media, comments on various platforms, and other activities all end up in the same basket. The effects of doxxing can take a toll on people’s mental health as well. There have been cases when exposed individuals suffered from injuries, emotional distress, or committed suicide. In other cases, doxxing can interfere with job opportunities in the future. Pre-employment screening can detect such details and deem you unfit for various positions.
How doxxing works
We all leave traces of our identity on the web. Usually, people do not even realize that simple actions can affect their future. For instance, a seemingly-innocent trolling in the comment section can ruin your reputation. It is especially true when people use strong language and add offensive, racist, or sexist remarks. After you become a victim of doxxing, your reputation can go down the drain.
The attackers usually extract users’ information from social media accounts, public records, massive databases, forums, etc. People can end up on the hackers’ radar because of suspicious behavior, propaganda, offensive comments, or transmission of fake news. In some cases, personal disputes, competition, or intents to embarrass can be the reasons. So, doxxing weaponizes data and turns it against people. For instance, a person linked a journalism professor from Temple University to some anti-Muslim comments and conspiracies.
This harassment is a form of cyberbullying done by enthusiasts who want to intimidate and discredit people. Sometimes, doxxing can reveal people’s home addresses. Hence, there have been incidents when exposed people received death threats. Additionally, swatting became a popular practice of deceiving emergency services into sending armed officers to a specific location. Many people have become victims of this tactic, sometimes fatal to the target.
Dox yourself: prevent exposure of personal data
Since doxxing is not an extremely advanced attack, you can use it to remove your online footprint. Usually, this type of harassment focuses on influential people that are very outspoken about politics, economy, human rights, or other sensitive topics. Therefore, in many ways, doxxing is a way to control self-expression online. Luckily, you enjoy a clean slate by following specific guidelines:
- Google yourself. You have probably done it once or twice, but this time, focus on the available data. Can a simple search query reveal your home address, phone number, or other personal information? If that is the case, your digital identity can not only suffer from doxxing, but also other malicious attacks.
- Change privacy settings on social media. Many of the social media platforms set accounts as public by default. It means that anyone who visits your profile can see all your posts, pictures, friend lists, liked pages, etc. For instance, accidentally or intentionally revealing your home address can potentially have dreadful consequences. Stalking, tracking, or repetitive harassment might begin if your home address starts circulating online.
- Run Google’s image search. This action can help you learn whether imposters use your images for fake accounts.
- Remove yourself from data broker sites. Certain companies control massive databases of users’ data. They can sell it to marketers and businesses for a profit. So, you should try to remove yourself from such databases.
- Create separate email accounts. It is best to have several email accounts dedicated to different online matters. For instance, a separate account is necessary for studies or work. Additionally, you should have a personal email for other purposes: communicating with friends or relatives. You might also get a third email: for those subscriptions to websites, forums, etc. With your email transactions separated, it is less likely that doxxing will be as successful.
- Connect to a VPN. Such programs encrypt all web traffic and makes it impossible to misuse against you. Hackers interested in performing doxxing intercept unsecured network connections to get more data. As a result, they might steal a hefty amount of personal information. A personal VPN will make sure that it won’t be possible to expose your data against your will.