What is doxxing?
It’s become the weapon of choice for everyone from internet trolls to anti-fascists, but what is doxxing and how can you protect yourself against it?
To put it simply, doxxing (or doxing) is the act of publishing personally-identifiable information about an individual for the purposes of intimidation, harassment or the destruction of their anonymity.
By piecing together a jigsaw of seemingly-innocuous info – a comment on an internet forum, a profile picture, a review of your favourite restaurant – ‘doxxers’ can link your online output to your offline identity.
This might mean your real name. Or perhaps your place of work. It could be your home address, your telephone number, or your personal email. It may be a link to your social media accounts. Or even your child’s school.
And as a tool for harassment, it’s certainly effective. Online mobs have laid waste to individuals’ identities after they were doxxed – forcing them to shut down social media accounts and scrub blogs off the face of the internet amid an onslaught of harassment.
How does it affect you?
If you’re a blogger, an activist, a journalist, a whistleblower or are simply an avid internet user, you run the risk of being doxxed. Getting abusive phone calls in the middle of the night, emails sent to your employer, or even bogus calls made to the emergency services to prompt an armed response to your address (a practice known as ‘swatting’) have been common forms of harassment since doxxing first arose in online communities of hackers all the way back in the 1990s.
But you can protect yourself.
Following a few simple principles can make the job of a doxxer much harder – or even impossible. Check out these tips to prevent doxxing and ask yourself how many you could apply to your online life.
Limit personally identifiable information
Think about your own online activity. Perhaps you’ve got a Reddit account. Have you ever mentioned your home town? How about something which would give away your age? Or left a comment which related to your occupation? One of these things alone could not personally identify you. But all of them together could quite easily narrow the search down to a dozen or so individuals. Or maybe just one.
Be inconsistent with online identities
How many online identities do you have? An Instagram page? An account on Mumsnet? A Twitter profile? Think about whether you need to maintain the same online identity for each account. Giving away a little too much information on one site, can make it easy to identify you by cross-referencing it with your other online profiles.
Use privacy settings
Sharing pictures online is great. Until someone with malicious intent gets hold of them. Do you really need every wedding snap and drunken selfie tagged with your identity on Facebook? It’s simple enough to change settings so that you have to give permission before a tagged picture appears on your wall. If a doxxer can link your Facebook profile to a separate online identity, they will soon have pictures to accompany your online comments elsewhere.
Owning a personal blog or website means registering the domain. This means that with a simple search, a doxxer can locate your personal data – a massive oversight if you’re hoping to publish with any level of anonymity. When registering a domain, select the option for privacy protection and a search on the WHOIS database will obscure your details with those of your web hosting provider.
For more terrifying things people can do with your details, read about Virtual Kidnapping