The digital age has made our lives a lot easier and faster than it ever was. Just with a few clicks on a small screen, we can obtain lots of information, communicate with people across the world, document our daily activities, and so much more. And, while there are a lot of advantages that come out of such technological advancement, there is also a dark side to it that can jeopardize our safety.
Cybercrimes have grown stronger over the years, ranging from stealing confidential information to blackmailing victims. Unfortunately, cybercrimes are not backing down, not even a bit. The criminals and hackers are getting more creative every day, introducing doxxing as one of the malicious behaviors used to cause damage and exploit individuals.
Doxxing is one of the harmful behaviors used for cyberbullying. The word “doxxing” is an abbreviation for “dropping dox,” and dox is slang for docs, which is an abbreviation for documents. The naming comes from the fact that criminals let documents that should stay confidential out into the light.
Its main purpose is to expose someone publicly by leaking secretive or scandalous information about them. The worst part about doxxing is that it is not particularly illegal. That is because the criminals obtain the information using some legal methods. This actually means that our data on the social network is not as safe as we think it is.
Doxxing can happen in different forms and ways. However, there are security parameters you can take to ensure this unfortunate crime doesn’t happen to you.
Definition of Doxxing
Well, as we previously mentioned, doxxing, abbreviation of dropping dox, is the act of revealing someone’s information, whether home address, contact information, financial data, or any personal data without their permission. This malicious behavior first started back in the 1990s when conflicts arose between rivaled hackers.
Later on, it became embedded in the culture of technology wars. Doxxers started throwing shades at either one another or other victims, with the intention to taint their reputation and ruin their private lives.
The worst thing is that the scandals or embarrassing information used are not ones that stay within the virtual world, it escalates to the real one. Doxxing is not only harmful to the victim of this act, but it also impacts the lives of those associated with the person on either a personal or professional level.
The Motives behind Doxxing
The reasons behind why doxxing vary greatly between people. You can’t always know the reasons or the motives that lead the doxxer to harm someone. Someone can dedicate their times and effort to dox another person just because they disagree with their political views or things they post on different platforms.
The risk is higher when you hold a prominent position or is a public figure. Examples of doxxing include revealing private photos of someone and leaking them to the public. Another form of doxxing can be posting someone’s phone number in public places and encouraging others to harass them.
In rare cases, doxxing can be used for a good cause. It can be beneficial when the identity of a hacker is revealed, for example. However, most doxxers tend to rather have harmful intentions than help save someone.
Different Methods of Doxxing
The personal information that is out there on the network, no matter how trivial it seems, can be used as a weapon against us. Revealing any information about someone without permission is a criminal act; however, the methods use to obtain this information makes it hard to sue the doxxer. Here are the methods most commonly used to dox someone:
Stalking on Social Media
Our social media accounts reveal a lot about us. It reveals our names, email addresses, cell phone numbers, and where we live. You may think how could this information harm anyone? Well, all a doxxer needs to launch their doxxing attack is those breadcrumbs. This little pieces of information can be enough for a doxxer to collect the bigger picture of your life and use it as a weapon against you.
Tracking IP Address
Your IP Address can tell a lot about you, from the city you live in, ZIP code, and more. In many cases, it can locate your actual location. Doxxers can manage to get your IP address and locate you. Not only that, but they can use an IP logger to track your online activity and gain even more information about you to use in doxxing.
Packet Sniffing Strategy
Packet sniffing is a method used by skillful hackers to obtain more information about you. This strategy gives the doxxers room to sniff around important data by damaging your network’s security measures. When this happens, it is easier for them to lay hands on the exposed data, including your credit card numbers, financial information, and passwords. It can also give the attacker access to some messages from your old emails, giving them power to launch a vindictive doxxing attack.
Tracking People’s Usernames
Using the same username and passwords for all of your online platforms is a dangerous road to go down. Once a hacker lays hands on their target’s credentials, they start to build a picture of how the victim spends time on the internet. Moreover, they grant themselves access into the target’s accounts, digging for information to use against them.
One of the methods hackers use for doxxing is WHOIS. It is an internet protocol for query and response, where you can search a wide database of different users with their IP addresses, domain names, and more. You can obtain a huge chunk of information by using this database. There are also some domain names that allow the hackers to contact the person behind them, easing their wicked doxxing mission.
At some point, everyone has fallen victim for a scamming attempt or at least mistakenly believed it even if you didn’t respond to it. Phishing scams are one of the ugliest fraudulent acts that hackers pull on their targets to activate their doxxing process. They design tricky messages that seem personal or impersonate someone that the victim is acquainted with. This way, they induce the victim to reveal some sensitive information without being suspicious.
Cybercriminals are quite skillful when it comes to rummaging through personal data and digging deep to find information that should have stayed hidden. One of the ways they use when trying to pull a doxxing act on someone is searching the government websites. Of course, big part of this information remains confidential. Yet, they can weaponize data that seems harmless like marriage licenses, voter registration logs, businesses licenses, DMV records, and so on.
Mobile Phone Number
Giving out your phone number seems like a harmless things to do since there are many ways to block spammers and annoying callers. However, you should be aware of who has your phone number. Doxxers have the ability to use your phone number for their own advantage. Many websites require little fees for exchanging personal information, including addresses. You never know what an enemy can have on you and use for doxxing if they just have your phone number.
Something that not everyone is familiar with is that there are brokers who buy and sell people’s personal data. Data brokers’ main duty is to collect some breadcrumbs from here and there to form a big picture about a person. They track your activity log, online purchases, and pretty much everything you download or read. No matter how innocuous information this seems, they can find a way to use it for doxxing.
Protection Against Doxxing
The digital world can be a dangerous platform, jeopardizing the safety and privacy of many people. However, there are several ways by which you can protect yourself from cybercrime, especially doxxing. Taking the right safety parameters goes a long way in building a sturdy defensive strategy. Applying most, or all, of the following security measures can halt criminals from laying hands on confidential information.
Learn the Best Cybersecurity Practices
Cybersecurity is not to be taken lightly; it is important to keep your sensitive data confidential and away from sights of the criminals’. No one wants to fall prey to a vindictive doxxing incident, yet many neglect the importance of applying cyber safety measures. Using a firewall, installing a proper antivirus software program, and keeping your software updated are just the basic application of online protection.
Set Up Google Alerts
Google alerts are more important than many people tend to believe. It warns you when your account has been locked into a brand new device, asking whether this were you or not. If it weren’t you, they will take action against this hacking attack and automatically report it. Thus, make sure you keep your alerts on.
Multi-factor authentication is quite important, for it needs several identification login credentials to grant you access. In other words, you use more than just your regular password; it may require using your own phone number as well on which an One-Time Password (OTP) is required. This method makes the doxxing process quite hard since the hackers will barely get into your accounts.
Most of us like using passwords with personal connotations to make them easier to remember. While there is nothing wrong about this, it is always wise to add uppercase and lowercase letters along with several symbols and/or numbers that strengthen your passwords and make it hard for hackers to figure them out. It is always better if you could use different passwords for different platforms
Vary Usernames Across Platforms
Just like it is better to use different passwords for different accounts, the same applies to your usernames. Keeping the same username across all platforms is an access permission for a hacker to easily get into your privacy. Once the username is figured out by a cybercriminal, then they can access all of your data on different platforms and pull an evil doxxing act on you.
Using public network can threaten your safety on the internet, for network vulnerabilities gives hackers the opportunity to invade your system, and that’s when VPN comes in handy. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” Its main purpose is to set up a protected network connection for users of public network.
Several Email Accounts
Using the same email for everything is easier and faster, but it is not safe. Try to create different emails for different purposes so cybercriminal don’t find the mission of doxxing you quite easy and tempting. Make sure you don’t mix your personal and professional emails.
Beware the Scamming Emails
As was previously mentioned, phishing emails is a popular doxxing methods that many cybercriminals use. These emails usually impersonate someone you know or seem like they come from trusted sources like banks. It encourages you to share information that should be kept private. In fact, most institutions never ask for passwords, Social Security number (SSN), or home address.
Maximize Privacy Settings
The privacy settings need to be checked every once in a while. You need to be fully aware of the amount of information displayed on your social media platforms. The platforms on which you share personal information, like sharing photos with friends and families, need to have a more firm privacy settings.
Avoid Unknown Quizzes and Apps
When we are bored and surfing the internet aimlessly, it can be tempting to try out applications or quizzes to kill some time. However, some of these unknown apps and online quizzes gather information about you. You need to be careful of the permissions they ask for as you may be the one unknowingly allowing them into your privacy. That way, hackers will find you an easy victim to launch a doxxing attack on.
If you own a domain, it is better if you keep running your website secretly. Hiding your domain from the WHOIS database means that your information won’t be shared, whether your address or contact data. You have the right to adjust your privacy settings as a domain owner, especially if you are trying to banish any doxxing attempts.
If you looked yourself up, you may find some personal information displayed. Make sure you ask Google to remove any information you want hidden. Besides Google, you can have your personal data removed from data broker sites. However, you may need to keep going back and checking, for you can find your info republished.
Be Cautious What You Share
This may seem too obvious, but many people still ignore this fact. It is okay to post your opinions publicly, but getting yourself into controversial matters can be an enough reason for a hacker to think of doxxing you. Sharing your opinions anonymously can seem tempting, but it gives criminals an interesting job to work on, and it is revealing your own identity. Make sure you don’t share or express too much on the digital world, so you can ensure your safety.
What If Doxxing Already Happened?
In some unfortunate cases, doxxing already happens or threats of doing it take place. This time can be very distressing and, with the doxxer’s intimidating remarks, you might not think clearly. During such an incident, it is better to stay calm so you can take the rightful and legal actions against the cybercriminal. Here is what you need to do:
Report the Doxxing Attack
The first thing you should do is report the incidents to whichever platform your data has been disclosed on. There are always rules and guidelines for what to do when this takes place and it will recite for you the process you need to follow. This way, you make sure the doxxer’s malicious act doesn’t spread to lengths you don’t them to go.
Ask for Support
Being alone can make this situation even worse. It is better if you inform someone you can confide in with what you are going through so they can help you lessen the conflicting damages, even if in a mental and emotional sense.
Having evidence goes a long way in backing up your statements. Taking screenshots of the incident is wise, for you will have some documents reference encouraging legal authorities to be involved and take legitimate actions.
Lock Down Accounts
Changing your passwords and stepping up your privacy game will log the doxxer out of your accounts. Make sure you use strong passwords that are hard to guess and ones that are quite distinct from the old ones that allowed the doxxing to happen in the first place.
Protect Financial Information
Reach out to your bank and ask them to cancel your cards if doxxing has reached your financial data. Also make sure you change the passwords to all your online banking services to ensure the hackers won’t be able to breach your financial data once again. You don’t have to worry about your cards being cancelled, banks are always ready for such fraudulent incidents and will send you new ones in a matter of days.
Doxxing can be a really taxing issue. It threatens your sense of safety and privacy. Make sure you always keep yourself well-protect on the digital world and avoid giving the doxxers reasons to put your privacy on the line.