The number of people using the internet has changed dramatically since its inception in 1983. According to a recent report from Statista, nearly 4.4 billion people were active internet users as of April 2019, encompassing 58% of the global population, with China, India and the United States ranking ahead all other countries in terms of internet users.
We use the internet for a wide variety of reasons and things – everything from checking emails, communicating with loved ones, educational research, shopping online and more.
All of these billions of connected users also leave their data unsecure on websites, enabling those with bad intentions to easily obtain personal information. Having your name, phone number and address posted online leaves you vulnerable to real cybercrimes and attacks, like swatting, online harassment, and cyberstalking. In many cases, if you know the name of a person, you can easily find his or her personal information such as email address, social accounts, private phone number and more.
What Is Doxxing?
The term doxxing (also written as doxing) comes from the expression “dropping dox,” which is a revenge tactic used by hackers in which they drop malicious information to other hackers. It is generally a highly targeted form of abuse, similar to a physical threat in your real life. A doxx typically includes your name, phone number, social profiles, personal photos, social security number, state, city and address.
Is Doxxing Legal?
Doxxing is totally unethical and illegal under state criminal laws. It’s a crime and can lead to serious legal consequences like imprisonment, if you get caught harassing others and sharing their private information. More often than not, law enforcement has difficulty identifying and prosecuting these types of crimes.
On the other end, if someone is using the published personal information within ethical standards, it is not a crime. However, those doxxing with a more insidious agenda are committing a serious crime if their motives are proven to be unethical.
Victims of Doxxing
Anyone can be a victim of doxing. A simple web search for someone’s real name or profile picture can often turn up other online accounts in which more personal information is available.
Many doxxing victims are popular on social media and have a huge number of followers. These include journalists, celebrities, vloggers and other social media influencers. Revealing the identity of these people is a major violation of privacy as many of them don’t want their real name revealed on the internet.
Celebrities and politicians have always been a prime target for hackers. Famous people like Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Robert Mueller, Beyoncé, Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Charlie Beck have all been victims of doxxing. These high-profile victims are just a minor fraction of the long list of targets whose personal information has been published online by a group of hackers.
How to prevent doxxing?
Cybercriminals and trollers can be very resourceful in how they doxx you. They can use a single clue, and then follow it up until they slowly unravel your online persona and completely reveal your identity. Here’s what you should look out for if you want to stay anonymous on the web.
1. Social Privacy
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are a goldmine for doxxers. If you are already using these social channels, you might want to tighten up your accounts’ privacy. You can easily keep all of your accounts safe by following the tips below:
- Limit your posts, photos and activities to your friends
- Never accept friend requests from strangers and most certainly do not talk with them
- Ask your friends to remove personal tagged photos
2. IP Masking
Hackers can easily read your conversation if your connection is unsecure. Make it a habit to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) whenever you browse the internet. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel that makes a secure connection from your device to the websites you are visiting. When you use a VPN, hackers can’t see what you are doing online. A VPN also encrypts your data and makes it so that even your ISP isn’t able to trace your IP address back to you. According to VPNPro, None of the VPNs below limit your speed, bandwidth or number of server switches – a common negative with free VPN services.
3. Throwaway Email
Create a separate, “throwaway” email for websites that require an email address only for the sake of registration, including any kind of subscription service or email blast you want to receive. Be sure to make the email address unrelated to your name or your hobbies. You can then use your “throwaway” email when you feel the site or service may not be very secure. Some of these websites may be doxxing harvesting sites, but if you use a secondary throwaway email, you can easily delete your account and information without any impact on your online activities.
4. WHOIS data
While registering a domain, websites always ask for your personal information and store it in a public database of WHOIS. This information can be seen by anyone on the internet by using just a few keys. Simply go to your domain registrar and see what options they provide for you to ensure your WHOIS information remains private.
5. Data Brokers
Some data mining websites function as a sort of Yellow Pages. They mine the internet for data and gather it all in one place. This can include an address, social media profile, photos, phone number and email. DeleteMe.com is a useful tool that will clear all your personal information from websites.
6. Google Information
Do not post too much personal information about yourself online. Develop a monthly habit to search about yourself on Google because it will give you a good idea of what sort of personal information about you is available online. You must be aware of any public records, property and tax records that are available online. Be cautious when you make check-ins on Facebook, tweet something about your activities or post personal photos on Instagram. Cyber snoopers can easily pick up on those activities and twist them into another context that could be scary for you as a result of doxxing.
The internet isn’t as secure and private as you may think. Your online identity has many evil eyes watching it, all eager to get their hands on your private data and information. It is best to apply all safety measures that have been discussed above to keep serious cyber threats like doxxing at bay.