Have you ever been online and replied to a comment or post? Maybe it was on Reddit or on an influencer’s Instagram. Did other people reply to you, and were any of them unexpectedly hostile? When you’re online, a little hostility is sadly par for the course, but most people brush it off and move on to enjoy other aspects of life online. But what would you do if that unpleasant interaction went much farther than was reasonable? What if one day you discovered the most important parts of your identity had been maliciously and intentionally revealed online? Let’s talk about doxxing – what it is and how you can avoid becoming a victim of this kind of harassment.
What is Doxxing?
Doxxing, derived from the hacker term “dropping docs”, is internet slang for revealing someone’s identity online for the purposes of harassing them. It usually goes way beyond simply revealing someone’s email address or name and may involve personal information like a home address or workplace, SSN, financial information, phone number, pictures, texts, IP address, and other important details. The tricky thing about doxxing is that aspects of it may not be a crime, depending on what you’ve made publicly available online. However, the context in which doxxing occurs is crucial. Often it’s the first step taken to incite more severe harassment. For instance, the doxxer may not plan on taking action against their target but instead hope that someone else does. When put up against a recent Pew Research report showing that 41% of U.S. web users experience harassment in some form, it’s clear that Doxxing is a dangerous trend online.
Why is Doxxing so Destructive?
Doxxing is a problem that’s grown in scope simply because there’s so much more data about us being kept online. Third-party services, called data brokers, capture our account info, the sites we visit, how long we spent on them, and other kinds of metadata to create profiles they then resell to advertisers. If someone gets access to these troves of data, they can reveal extremely damaging information about an individual, or data that allows a person to be damaged. For instance, with a phone number and a current address, some criminals were able to call in SWAT teams on innocent individuals. Political dissidents are often doxxed by the governments their protesting against. And on a lighter note, the adult website Ashley Madison, which promotes extramarital affairs, had their members’ data leaked online, to the embarrassment of a few public figures.
What to Do if You’re Doxxed
The response should be very similar to the one you’d take if your wallet was stolen. Move fast, stem the loss, and begin remediation as soon as possible. Here are some broad steps that can be taken.
- If you’ve been affected through social media, report it and get your info removed. Depending on the severity of intent, you may want to contact local law enforcement if real-world harassment is expected to result.
- Revealed personal data is easily transmittable over the internet. Set Google alerts to see if further exposure is happening online.
- Were financial accounts or your social security numbers revealed? Immediately change your passwords and watch for activity suggesting identity theft. A credit freeze or fraud alert may be necessary to prevent someone from opening an account in your name.
Protect Yourself From Being Doxxed
Of course, not being doxxed in the first place is the ultimate goal of a proactive online protection plan. Here’s what we recommend:
Use identity theft protection
Identity theft protection services help protect your data, monitor your online accounts like emails, SSNs, and more. In addition to online monitoring, they should also offer insurance and even theft remediation if the worst should occur.
Share with caution
Before you tag your location, friends, or workplace in a photo think about who has access to this information. What’s gained or lost by sharing all that info? Also, security questions for your accounts should not use the name of your pet or your first-born child if you have posted those on Facebook.
Use a VPN if you’re on Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks at coffee shops and airports may not be secure against hackers and snooping. That’s why we recommend using a VPN whenever you’re connected online. This powerful tool hides your activity and location whenever you’re online on an unsecured network.
Go ahead, Google yourself once in a while
Googling yourself is a great way to see if anyone is using your online identity in bad ways.
Adjust your privacy settings
Social networks allow you to control who can see your data. Usually, with a few clicks, you can restrict what you show online to a great degree. For instance, makes your payments viewable to other users as a default, but can easily be changed to hide them from the public.
Protect your passwords
Using long, complex, unique passwords for every account is convenient and maybe the best way to prevent your information from being stolen. Yes, we said convenient because with a password manager you only need to remember one key to create and manage much longer ones for all your most important accounts.
Seize the Day Without Worrying About Doxxing
The reality is that the more we live online, the more our identities will too. This does not mean we need to live a restricted life online. In fact, using comprehensive online protection, which features most of the tools above, we can remain free to enjoy life on our terms. Doxxing is something to be aware of, but with great protection, it’s far from anything we need to be worried about as we make the most of our lives online.