What is doxxing and how to protect yourself from getting doxxed?

As an avid internet user, you likely have several social media accounts for your photographs, narratives, and various moments of your life. Unfortunately, social media isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Often, people become victims of online harassment through doxxing. 

Doxxing can be rather confusing to understand, but through it, fraudsters can easily steal your information for identity theft, scams, and other criminal activities. 

Many factors can put you at risk, so you naturally want to learn how to keep your socials safe with security measures to avoid getting doxxed.

We looked at reputable sources online to understand how doxxing works. We also checked forums and other sources for real-life doxxing stories. We gathered the best lessons learned, tips, and expert insights on how to prevent getting doxxed.

Stick with us until the end and discover the best practice for keeping your online activities safe. Don’t miss out on crucial tips that could prevent you from doing all the wrong things that would make you vulnerable to doxxing.

What is doxxing?

Doxxing, or doxing, comes from the neologism “dox.” This is a spelling alteration of “docs” or documents, referring to a complication of someone’s personal information. 

Doxxing means revealing and publicizing a person’s records, which should be difficult to obtain. 

It’s a malicious process that hackers use against people they dislike or disagree with. It may sound like your typical old-school revenge tactic, but in the 1990s, hackers relied on this method to expose and harass their opponents. 

Anonymity was deemed sacred during this period, making privacy violation an act that could lead to legal repercussions. Of course, this setback didn’t stop hackers from forming the culture of doxxing, which remains prevalent today. 

Doxxing now refers to personal information exposure. This is then followed by a series of online crimes, including identity theft, fraud, and other criminal acts. 

How does doxxing work?

Doxxers—those who commit doxxing—collect small pieces of information about a user. They then compile this information, which they can sell or publish online. 

Doxxers use different methods to collect information but usually rely on social media profiles. They can also trace your IP address, resort to phishing, and interrupt your internet traffic. 

Is it doxxing if the information is public? Yes, because doxxers can still use your public info to get others to harass you.

What information can doxxing reveal, and how can it affect you?

Doxxing originated as a revenge tool hackers used for opponents with different views, beliefs, and other controversial disagreements. The primary goal is to target their adversaries and reveal certain information, including the following sensitive data:

  • Workplace addresses
  • Home addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Bank account and credit card numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Other personal details 

Doxxing can often lead to trivial attacks. Usually, hackers can resort to fake food deliveries or email sign-ups, but some acts, like swatting, can endanger lives. Other doxxers can harass families and employers, while some resort to threats, identity theft, cyberbullying, and stalking. 

You may be wondering, “Should I be scared of doxxing?” Given the process behind doxxing, it can seem harmless at first. 

Doxxers collect information already existing on the internet. However, data that doxxers compile can lead them to unearth more information about you, which can end up with damaging consequences. 

Many victims may suffer from the following crimes:

  • Non-stop prank calling
  • Cyberbullying
  • Identity theft
  • Reputation harm, both personal and professional
  • Cyberattacks and hacking
  • Loss of jobs, homes, families, and in extreme cases, lives

A recent criminal harassment tactic, called swatting, involves calling 911 to send SWAT units to victims’ addresses by falsely reporting grave situations like a hostage situation. Doxxers can employ this tactic, and in some cases, this can be fatal.

Who can get doxxed?

If you’re an internet user, you can easily become a victim of doxxing. Identity theft has become a common part of digital harassment, which continues to empower doxxers. 

Doxxing can maliciously affect anyone’s image and reputation online, and you can lose your sensitive information.

The things we share online can also help doxxers find your location easily, which is why protecting your privacy is vital. 

Is doxxing illegal?

We now understand that doxxing can permanently ruin lives, especially since it can target not just individuals but their families and careers. Given the gravity of the consequences, the question now stands—is doxxing illegal?

The short answer is no. Doxxing isn’t illegal, mainly because the information is public anyway, coming from what you share online.

It still depends, but how doxxers use that information can be considered an offense. Doxxers can use and upload your public photos on Facebook and other sites without your permission. It’s illegal for them to use your public information to impersonate you, as that counts as identity theft. 

Depending on your state, however, the actions following doxxing, such as harassment, death threats, and stalking, may be punishable by law. 

Regardless of the existing laws, however, it’s important to remember that doxxing can still violate a platform’s terms of service. This means a doxxer can be banned if proven guilty, as the act of doxxing is deemed unethical and filled with malicious intent. 

How to prevent doxxing

Preventing doxxing may seem complicated given outdated laws and the nature of social media. However, it’s not impossible. Here’s how to protect yourself from doxxing:

Don’t share everything online

People can easily steal and compile your information online, so limit what you share. There’s no need to post your current locations, favorite movies, or the school you used to go to. 

You also don’t have to post photos of your every move. Social media can be invasive without us noticing, making you an easy target for online criminals. 

Make password-changing a habit

Even the most powerful brands worldwide suffer from data breaches, so always treat your social media accounts as a magnet for cybercriminals. 

That said, make it a habit to change your passwords every month. It’s recommended to use complex combinations of letters, words, and special characters, as this will make hacking difficult. 

Invest in a VPN

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are excellent tools to hide your IP address, a number that may reveal your location. 

It’s wise to use VPNs because hackers can snoop around for your IP address. They can harvest this data to reveal your location, which can be dangerous if they leak your home or work address. A VPN can safeguard you from these instances.

Use a separate email address to sign up for online forums

Many of us sign up on online forums, messaging boards, and social media accounts using our personal email addresses. After all, this is a convenient practice, but this can leave us vulnerable to doxxing.

The odds are that your personal email contains your name, such as [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com. Although it seems professional and unproblematic, doxxers can easily find out your name or use your email account to dig your information up.

Although the online forum may not display your email address, hackers may trace it if the platform’s privacy measures are lax enough.

Using a separate email address to sign up on these platforms is best to protect hackers from getting your personal account.

Don’t use the “Sign in with Facebook/Google” options on online forums

Many online forums allow you to sign in with your Facebook and Google accounts. Doing so can be convenient because you don’t have to remember a separate password—you can just use your Facebook and Google credentials to log in.

However, while syncing your accounts may save you a few seconds every time you sign in, it also exposes you to online security risks. 

Some sites collect the personal information you publish on your Google and Facebook accounts, and you’ll be more vulnerable to data breaches, doxxing, and identity theft. 

Be careful about what you say online

It’s natural to air your opinions on online forums, discussion boards, social media sites, and news websites. You want people to hear your voice and discuss ideas with you. However, it’s always best to be careful about what you say online.

Even if you leave anonymous comments and don’t link your personal email address to your accounts on these platforms, the sites can still collect your data that cybercriminals can exploit. 

You can also be vulnerable to Wi-Fi sniffing and IP logging, which hackers use to reveal your information, such as your name and location.

How do I know if I’ve been doxxed?

You’ll usually find out immediately that someone has doxxed you because they often let you know. The doxxers will make your information public, and you can Google yourself or see the data dump on another website. 

If the doxxer doesn’t let you know, your contacts may see your information and tell you. Random people may also harass you on the phone, in your emails, on social media, and, worse, in real life.

What should you do if you’ve been doxxed?

Although you can protect yourself from doxxing, you may not be 100% safe because hackers are getting more sophisticated over time. Because of this, it’s best to know what to do if someone doxxed you.

Document the incident

When doxxing occurs, you must document the incident and gather as much information as possible. Download the page, take a screenshot with a time stamp, and record what you can about what happened.

Doing so can help law enforcement investigate the case and assist them in finding the perpetrators. Even if you think you’re safe, this is good practice if the incident opens you up to future attacks and harassment.

Temporarily lock your accounts

In an interview with WIRED, Eva Galperin, cybersecurity director at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated, “If you’re being targeted, I recommend basically locking down all of your accounts for a while. Maybe even appoint someone else to watch the situation for you so that you don’t have to.”

“Let somebody else do all of the emotional labor of dealing with these threats, and tracking them and reporting them to the platforms, because it can be really, really hard on a person mentally,” she added.

Locking your accounts, setting your posts to private, and temporarily deactivating them can make it more difficult for trolls to reach you.

Report the doxxing to the online platform and law enforcement

Doxxing violates the terms of service of many online platforms, such as Reddit and Twitter. Because of this, it’s best to contact the website’s support center once you’ve gathered enough evidence. The sites will usually remove the dox posts and ban the users. 

You can contact law enforcement if you receive grave threats online or over the phone. The police will investigate the case, and any documentation you have will be helpful. However, note that phone callers are typically easier to trace than online harassers.

Conclusion

From everything discussed, we’re right to be concerned about doxxing. Its roots stem from a culture of revenge and harm, which still prevails today. However, this shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the benefits we gain from social media. 

We laugh, learn, and connect with loved ones through our accounts, which makes the digital world rewarding. Don’t let doxxers get you down—place security measures and practice good digital hygiene!

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