What is doxxing?
Because of our close connection to the Internet and the sheer volume of content shared daily, the phenomenon of “doxing” has emerged and now poses a real threat. Perhaps the term is still new to some, but it has far-reaching consequences for all of us, from average users to well-known personalities.
In this article, you’ll learn what doxxing means, where it comes from, what the motives are behind it, and what methods the perpetrators use. More importantly, you will learn how to protect yourself from doxxing and what steps you can take if you become a victim.
Doxxing comes from the term “dropping documents”, and is the act of publishing someone’s personal, confidential information on the internet, often with malicious intent. This act can rob individuals of their online anonymity, subjecting them to various risks in both the digital and physical worlds. The primary objective is to intimidate, harm, or otherwise exploit the individual whose information has been laid bare.
The origins of doxxing
The term “doxxing” comes from online hacker disputes in the 1990s, when “dropping docs” referred to revealing a rival’s identity. Since then, the tactic has evolved from the term “docs” to the more familiar “dox.”
Originally, the term was used to reveal hidden online identities. Today, doxxing extends beyond the hacker community and affects many who reveal their real names online, especially the vast content on social media like Twitter and Facebook.
People doxx for many reasons. Some do it because they are angry at someone, others because they don’t like what someone has said, and still others to show that someone is hiding something, especially in heated debates. The information that is shared can vary. Some of it might just be innocent data, but other info can be harmful or dangerous.
The effects of doxxing can be quite annoying, such as unwanted pizza deliveries, but can also result in more serious problems such as cyberbullying or harassment in real life. Well-known personalities such as celebrities, politicians or top managers have already been targeted and their safety and well-being threatened. Regardless of the reason, doxxing is always an invasion of privacy and can have serious consequences for the victims.
What information are doxxers looking for?
In the shadowy corners of the digital world, doxxers continually seek personal information to exploit unsuspecting victims. Their motives range from personal vendettas to financial gain. Here’s a closer look at the specific types of data they want:
- Phone numbers: Lets them call or text people, which can lead to scams or harassment.
- Home addresses: Big privacy issue. People’s safety is at risk because they can be found.
- Bank account details: Opens up financial problems like unauthorized transactions or theft.
- Credit card details: Lets fraudsters buy stuff without permission or sell the info online.
- Social security numbers: Key to identity theft, leading to fraud like fake loans or tax scams.
- Personal communications: Emails or messages can tell a lot about a person’s life and relationships.
- Prior legal offenses: Can give a bad image, especially if misunderstood, harming one’s reputation.
- Personal imagery: Photos or videos can be used for blackmail or to damage reputation.
- Private life incidents: Stories or personal stuff that would be embarrassing if shared.
How does doxxing work?
Doxxing involves gathering online clues about individuals, often called ‘breadcrumbs’. By connecting these fragments – from names and physical addresses to emails and phone numbers – doxxers can reveal the true identities of users who would otherwise stay anonymous. The following methods are commonly used in doxxing to get sensitive data:
Phishing: Doxxers use deceptive social engineering techniques like phishing to manipulate individuals into disclosing personal data. They craft cunning links, emails, or websites that mirror legitimate ones to dupe their targets.
WHOIS: Registering a domain means your details, such as name, address, email, and phone number, end up in a public Whois database. While meant for transparency, this database can be a goldmine for doxxers seeking personal information.
Government Records: Public databases often store government records like property deeds, court proceedings, and voter registrations. These records can offer vast amounts of information, ripe for a doxxing attack.
IP Tracking: Every online device has a distinct IP address, disclosing details about an individual’s whereabouts, online behavior, and frequented sites. Doxxers exploit IP addresses to derive such information, making VPNs essential for masking your online footprints.
Social Media Stalking: Social media platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter) or Facebook, teeming with user-generated content, overflow with personal data—from birthdays and residence details to daily activities and trips. Doxxers mine this information, sometimes even creating fake profiles to infiltrate their target’s circle.
Packet Sniffing: This method involves capturing and analyzing data packets exchanged between a device and a network. By intercepting these packets, doxxers can extract confidential data about their targets.
Reverse Lookups: Online tools exist that can unearth personal details from limited data like phone numbers or email addresses. While they have legitimate uses, doxxers can abuse them for their schemes.
Data Brokers: Specialized firms collect, process, and trade personal data. Acquiring information from these brokers provides doxxers with another tool in their arsenal to build comprehensive profiles of their targets.
Is doxxing illegal?
In general, doxxing as an isolated act isn’t directly illegal, especially when the disclosed information is from the public domain and has been acquired through lawful means. However, the legal perspective can shift based on regional laws: in some places, doxxing might be illegal if it leads to harassment or threats.
Beyond legality, the ethical concerns surrounding doxxing are significant. This practice can have serious consequences for the person involved – from emotional distress to physical harm. Many online communities, activists, and cybersecurity experts therefore reject doxxing and consider it a form of online vigilantism that often leads to unwarranted harm.
Some companies and organizations are already taking action themselves against employees who engage in doxxing, seeing it as a violation of their professional conduct. Societal views often perceive doxxing as a harmful act, even if laws don’t always categorize it as illegal.
Can you go to jail for doxxing someone?
Doxxing can lead to a prison sentence under certain circumstances. While doxxing itself is not always illegal, it can lead to other illegal activities. For example, if doxxing leads to harassment, cyberstalking, threats, identity theft, or provokes violent acts, these offenses can be prosecuted. It is important to understand the legal implications of actions on the Internet and their real-world consequences.
How to protect yourself from doxxing
Protecting yourself from doxxing requires a multifaceted approach to cybersecurity and privacy:
- Prioritize digital security: Always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and adopt multi-factor authentication for added security layers.
- Strengthen passwords & usernames: Opt for complex passwords and avoid using the same usernames across multiple platforms.
- Email & communication: Set up different email accounts for varying purposes and be cautious—never open suspicious or phishing emails.
- Monitor your digital footprint: Periodically review your online presence to assess your vulnerability to doxxing.Consider setting up Google alerts for your name.
- Domain privacy: Mask domain ownership details by hiding registration information from the WHOIS database.
- Social media accounts: Adjust privacy settings on social platforms to restrict public visibility. Ensure personal data, such as addresses or workplaces, isn’t shared openly.
- Financial safeguarding: Ensure protection of financial accounts and be wary of revealing sensitive information.
- Information control: Request Google to remove any personal data that shouldn’t be public. Moreover, be intentional about what information you disclose online, refraining from sharing specifics that can be used maliciously.
If you’ve been doxxed, there are steps you can take to prevent your confidential information from spreading. Additionally, you can report doxxing to the relevant authorities.
- Gather evidence: Take screenshots or save any messages, posts, or images that contain the doxxing information. Your evidence will be critical when filing a complaint.
- Contact law enforcement: Contact your local law enforcement agency and share all the evidence you have collected. Stress the severity of the situation and emphasize the potential harm it can cause to you or others involved if applicable.
- Report to platform: If the doxxing incident occurred on a specific online platform or social media site, report it directly to them. Most platforms have mechanisms in place to handle such cases. Look for options like “Report Abuse” or “Flag Content” and provide detailed information about the incident.
What to do if you get doxxed?
Finding out that you have been doxxed is a real shocker. The most important thing is to take a deep breath and act quickly to best protect your data. Below you will find a step-by-step guide that will help you deal with such situations:
- Report it: Inform the platform or website where your personal information was leaked. Many platforms have policies in place to handle doxxing and can assist in removing the data.
- Document the evidence: Capture screenshots, save URLs, and archive any related communications before they’re removed or deleted. This documentation can be vital for investigations.
- Protect financial accounts: Immediately notify your bank and credit card companies of the potential threat. Monitor your accounts for any suspicious activities.
- Secure your accounts on the internet: Update passwords, enable two-factor authentication, and review security settings on all online accounts, especially email and social media.
- Get support from family or friends: Inform your loved ones about the situation so they can also be vigilant and protect their own information, as they might be targeted indirectly.
- Involve law enforcement: Depending on the severity of the doxxing and the nature of threats you receive, it might be necessary to contact the police or other law enforcement agencies. They can advise on further steps and start an investigation if required.
- Protect your data against leaks: Implement measures to avoid future doxxing. This could include using VPNs, avoiding public Wi-Fi, or subscribing to services that notify you if your data appears in any breaches.
- Change your phone number: If your phone number has been leaked, consider getting a new one. Notify only close contacts about the change.
Remember, staying calm and acting methodically is essential. Each step can help mitigate the impacts of doxxing and further safeguard your privacy.
Examples of doxxing
To understand the far-reaching consequences of doxxing for individuals and communities, we look at real-world examples. These illustrate the motivations for doxxing, the ways in which personal details are revealed, and the subsequent challenges victims face. Below are some prominent cases of doxxing in recent history that underscore its profound implications:
Boston Marathon bombing
In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing incident, a group of online vigilantes took it upon themselves to identify the perpetrators. However, as is often the case, their amateur online sleuthing had negative consequences, as innocent individuals were falsely accused and doxxed.
Cecil the Lion
Many people were outraged when news broke of Cecil the Lion’s death at the hands of an American dentist in Zimbabwe. While the incident sparked global condemnation, some people resorted to doxxing. The dentist’s sensitive data was exposed, and he faced threats and harassment.
Ashley Madison is a dating website for married individuals seeking extramarital affairs. After a [data breach](https://www.malwarebytes.com/data-breach), private information, like names, addresses, and sexual preferences of many users, was exposed, resulting in doxxing. Many victims suffered from harassment and depression. Some also committed suicide.
The Gamergate incident centered around the issues of sexism and harassment in the gaming industry. Gamergate started as an online discussion but spiraled into a toxic war where doxxing was the weapon of choice. Female game developers, journalists, and influencers were commonly targeted.
These cases are a stark reminder of the serious consequences of doxxing that impact not only individuals, but also the entire community.
What does being doxxed mean?
Doxxing, occasionally spelled as Doxing, indicates the unauthorized disclosure of private details about an individual on the internet. This can include their actual name, place of residence, employment details, contact numbers, financial data, and other intimate particulars. Such data, when shared, usually lacks the consent of the person involved.
Can a VPN prevent doxxing?
A VPN prevents people from tracing your IP address, which can deter potential doxxers. However, a VPN is only one layer of protection, and should not be relied upon alone, as personal information can still come from social media accounts, public records, or data breaches.