Doxxing is an activity that consists of researching and eventually uncovering personal details about a person’s life.
Not only can doxxing be threatening to your online privacy, but it’s been repeatedly proven that this practice could also put you in danger, in a physical sense, especially if you’re on the receiving end.
What is doxxing?
Doxxing is mostly associated with the hacking scene (black-hat hacking, to be more precise), and if you frequently spend time online on forums or certain image boards, you may be familiar with this term.
However, if you never heard it before or have no idea how it can violate your privacy, you should definitely keep on reading.
Doxxing stands for documenting a person, in the sense of researching as much as possible about them, and ultimately using those findings to attack the victim in various ways.
The term has been likely coined by hackers, and probably originated from the short form of the word Documents – docs (dox).
Reportedly, doxxing started being a thing in the 1990s, when hackers would breach their rivals’ privacy and expose them to the authorities.
However, back then technology wasn’t as evolved as nowadays, so doxxing required going to great lengths and couldn’t be performed by just about anyone with a decent Internet connection.
How does doxxing work?
Contrary to public opinion, doxxing doesn’t just happen, except when personal details are really obvious. For instance, posting clear photos of your ID card and social security number could get you doxxed instantly.
In fact, most dox artists take their time to exploit every bit of information about the person they’re interested in, whether it’s their address, social security number, credit card information, or just their current job.
There are many ways through which doxxing can be achieved, so the end result of this activity highly depends on the perpetrator’s creativity and imagination.
For instance, posting a picture online without removing its EXIF data could jeopardize your privacy. Taking a picture in a varsity jacket sporting your high school’s logo could also narrow the search for a doxxer.
However, these are not the only ways you can get doxxed. Social media platforms could serve as goldmines of data to doxxers, as they collect a lot of information about you.
Why is doxxing dangerous?
One of the most important perks of staying on the Internet is the opportunity to be anonymous. Most people hide behind an anonymity veil and seldom hesitate to make their opinion (often unpopular) heard.
Doxxing simply makes the veil disappear, exposing one’s real identity online. However, this is only the beginning of a long series of mishappenings starring the exposed person, ranging from harmless pranks to unfortunate accidents that even resulted in death.
Here are some of the most common practices associated with doxxing:
- Ordering stuff online using the victim’s personal info
- Posting false allegations about the victim
- Trying to hack into the victim’s accounts using personal info
- Harassing the victim, as well as its family members and friends
- Harming the doxxed person physically
- Swatting (one of the vilest doxxing-related practices)
- Extortion and/or blackmailing victims using private information
It goes without saying that although doxxing may sound like a harmless prank, its implications are way more severe than what we’re lead to believe.
The negative effects that doxxing could have over someone range from mild distress to family estrangement or losing their job.
We’ve briefly mentioned swatting in the list above, and we owe you an explanation. In this scenario, the doxxer usually poses as the victim and does as much harm as possible while impersonating it, in order to catch the attention of law enforcement.
One of the most simple ways that doxxers achieve swatting is either impersonating the victim or simply giving a false tip about them being dangerous criminals all the while giving as much information as possible.
As a result, special units (such as SWAT teams, hence the name) may arrive at the victim’s house, mistaking it for a dangerous criminal.
Unfortunately, there have been a few cases where this behavior ended in the death of the victim (i.e. person being doxxed).
How to avoid getting doxxed?
We’re going to share a few safety tips in order to help you steer clear of being doxxed.
1. Limit sharing personal data online
As we’ve mentioned above, social media can be of great use to someone who plans on doxxing you, so it goes without saying that you should practice caution when sharing things with strangers online.
Setting your profile to private is a healthy practice, but not if you keep accepting random friend requests, especially considering that you may have several fake accounts as your friends without even knowing.
Last, but not least, you should avoid revealing too much of your whereabouts, as posting public pictures while you’re on vacation, for instance, could tip burglars about your absence and turn your home into a perfect target.
2. Manage your passwords effectively
Given the existence of breach databases being leaked online on hacking forums, this one is a no-brainer; not taking good care of your accounts means that someone will eventually slither in at some point and wreak havoc.
Remember that using a strong password is often not enough to protect your accounts, and you may want to change your passwords on a regular basis, in order to make cracking them more difficult, if not downright impossible.
3. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA)
MFA has become a standard in security policies all over the world, and it makes sense how confirming your sign-in attempts with a personal device can discourage attackers from attempting to crack your password.
Although account breaches don’t technically count as doxxing, there is a lot of information that an attacker could extract from your account after hacking its way into it.
All the more reasons why you should be more responsible with your accounts, don’t you think?
4. Use a VPN
If you’re spending your time online on forums or image boards, there’s a slim chance you might be monitored.
While using a VPN won’t blur your face in photos you post or hide your credit card information (should you decide to post it), it does a pretty good job at hiding your online identity.
Meaning that your IP address will be hidden, your location will be spoofed to match the VPN server you chose, and your traffic will be encrypted.
If, for instance, an attacker tries to dox your real location using your IP address, using a VPN will stop it dead in its tracks.
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5. Avoid sketchy websites
There are a lot of reasons to avoid sketchy websites, but now we just gave you one more you could live by if you want to avoid doxxing at all costs.
If at any point you notice that a website or online service is trying to pull sensitive info out of you, leave and never look back.
Survey websites, for instance, are a good way for a hacker to extract private info out of you without you even suspecting foul play.
Doxxing can be fought
All things considered, while doxxing is as real as it gets, it’s not unbeatable if you’re careful enough not to leave a trail of crumbs behind you everywhere you go.
In fact, simply following healthy cybersecurity practices and limiting your sharing of private information online should win you half the battle.
Last, but not least, using a VPN can throw a doxxer off track quite effectively by spoofing your location, hiding your IP address, and encrypting your traffic.