When someone searches for personal information about another person and then shares that information with malicious intent, they’re doxing. People dox to enact revenge, to discredit, or simply to reveal the identity of the anonymous. Anyone with an online presence runs the risk of being doxed. So, should you be worried?
The term doxing (or doxxing) is derived from the online “documents” or “docx” that identify a person, such as the individual’s real name, address, phone number, place of work, or other personal identifiers. A doxer can gather the desired information from publicly available databases and social media sites, as well as by hacking and social engineering. It’s a tactic that’s been used to “out” public and private figures alike.
One need not be a professional hacker to dox. Anyone who knows how to use a search engine can easily locate personal information about their target. A simple web search of a name often reveals other online accounts where still more personal information may reside.
Doxing is not illegal if the doxer has used social media and publicly available websites to gather the information. However, it does violate the terms of service found on many websites – which can result in the doxer being banned from the site. Moreover, some jurisdictions are making doxing illegal under stalking and harassment laws. And hacking into a private database to obtain confidential information is against the law.
Protect yourself from doxing
Anyone can be a victim of doxing – the internet can deliver a great deal of publicly available information about the average person. You may not be able to protect yourself completely from being doxed, but you can limit its effect.
Google yourself to see what pops up. Check out your public records and review your social media. Remember that doxers can take any information and photos you post and put them into a different, unflattering context. You’ve inadvertently helped doxers by putting stuff out there.
If you discover information about yourself that you want taken down, visit that site’s terms of service. Follow its protocol for filing a complaint or requesting a removal. Document everything.
Make it more difficult for others to access information about you. Take advantage of the privacy options at Facebook, Twitter, and other sites you frequent. Change your passwords on a regular basis. Utilize two-factor authentication (2FA) for all your accounts.
When it happens to you
If you become a doxing victim, take immediate action to protect your privacy and identity. Lock down your online activities, and contact an attorney to determine whether your legal rights have been violated.