Derived from “dropping docs”, doxxing is a form of online abuse that involves revealing identifying information about an individual. This exposes the individual to unwanted behavior, ranging from being signed up for services they do not want, to physical harassment and identity theft. So, how do doxxers operate and what steps can you take to prevent becoming a victim?
How does doxxing work?
Doxxers target individuals by gathering their personal data from online sources and publicly exposing that information. Often, the point is to engage in harassment or revenge, but the practice has also become part of the “culture wars”. Indeed, doxxing (or doxing) has been used to victimize high-profile figures, such as politicians or journalists, who express polarized views. The types of data exposed by doxxers includes:
- Physical addresses
- Email addresses
- Phone numbers
- Financial documents
- A person’s real name or identity
- A person’s place of work
- Social Security numbers
Doxxing dates back to computer hacking in the 1990s and the first widespread study of the practice was conducted in 2017. It found 90% of doxxed files included a physical address, with 61% including a phone number, and around half an email address.
The outcome of doxxing can be relatively harmless (if annoying and unsettling) such as getting spammed with email newsletters to which you did not sign up or having food delivered to your home which you did not order. However, there are potentially far more serious outcomes, including identity theft, harassment, intimidation, and stalking. Doxxers can also sell the information they collect to buyers on the dark web.
How can you prevent becoming a victim of doxxing?
Fortunately, there are various things you can do to protect yourself online and keep doxxers from accessing your personal information, including:
Removing your details from Google: In 2022, an option was introduced for people to request certain information be removed from Google search results. While this is not a catch-all solution, it does allow you to ask Google to take down “select personally identifiable information or doxxing content”, which means you can minimize the personal data that shows up in results.
Opting out of data brokers: These sites harvest data from the web from such sources as publicly available records, search histories, and loyalty cards. Data brokers then use that information or sell it to other parties for advertising or other purposes, raising the risk that it could fall into the wrong hands. So, opting out of these sites is a great way to protect your data.
Checking your social media presence: Adjusting your privacy settings on the social media platforms you use is one of the key steps you can take to limit access to your profiles and data. Also, be careful what you share. Revealing personal details in a public forum makes it easier for malicious actors to target you and potentially cause you a great deal of trouble.
If you fall victim to doxxing, there are things you can do to mitigate the damage, such as changing passwords and reporting it to the relevant online platforms. While every jurisdiction has its own rules on cybercrime, it is also worth contacting law enforcement. Even if doxxing itself is not illegal, related behaviors might rise to the level of criminal activity. However, it is far easier to take steps to protect yourself from doxxers than to deal with the fallout.
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