Have you ever said something you wish you could take back? Maybe it was a comment muttered in the heat of the moment that hurt someone’s feelings. Or maybe you just had a night out full of silly antics that you wouldn’t want your boss or grandma to see.
These are completely normal occurrences that happen all the time. We’re human! We make mistakes and letting loose every now and again is good for us. When these scenarios happen in person, we’re able to apologize or explain ourselves; however, the social media age complicates things. High-def cameras and video recorders are in everyone’s pocket, meaning that in-person slip-ups or lapses in judgement can come back to haunt you in a cyberscheme known as doxing.
Doxing can be harmful to one’s reputation and can cost someone their job, their friends, or their privacy. Here are five things you should know about doxing, plus some tips on how to prevent it from happening to you.
1. Doxing Defined
The term doxing originated from the phrase “dropping documents/docs.” It refers to a situation where an enemy or a rival seeks to tarnish the reputation of someone else by releasing documents (aka dropping docs) about them. These documents often contain personally identifiable information (PII) – like full names, birthdates, addresses, employment details, financial information, phone numbers, email addresses – and private correspondences or embarrassing videos or photos. The doxer – or the person dropping the documents – will publish these private details online, whether that’s on a forum, on social media, or a blog.
Doxing is considered cyberbullying because it is a form of online harassment. The doxer often does so with the intent of drumming up widespread hate about the victim and having the release of these private details negatively affect the victim’s life, such as getting them fired from their job or breaking up a relationship.
2. Doxing Can Happen to Anyone
Doxing happens most frequently to public figures, such as celebrities, politicians, streamers, and journalists. It is also a prevalent practice in the hacking community, where hackers reveal the identities of the real people behind forum usernames. However, anyone is susceptible to having their PII or sensitive photos or videos widely released on the internet for the sake of reputation sabotage. All it takes is for one scorned partner, a disgruntled coworker, or a disagreement to set a doxer on a warpath.
3. Doxing Isn’t Always Illegal
When the saboteur doesn’t have to dig into your past via the dark web or through hacking a personal device, doxing isn’t illegal. It’s malicious and can be emotionally damaging, but there is no law stopping a doxer from publishing the private details of someone else. Doxing crosses the line into a crime when it is accompanied by threats.
So, if a doxer didn’t hack a personal device or buy the PII off the dark web, where did they find these details? Oftentimes, people incriminate themselves with their social media footprint. What seems like ancient history in your social media timeline is again front and center after just a few minutes of scrolling.
4. Ways to Prevent Doxing From Happening to You
Check out these tips that can lessen the chances of doxing happening to you:
- Don’t goad people online. Doxing can happen to anyone. Sometimes the doxer is someone you know in real life, but other times it’s a stranger with whom you may or may not have crossed paths with online. One great rule of thumb is to not make enemies online. For example, if you disagree with someone online, be as respectful and polite to them as you would be if you were talking face to face.
- Don’t overshare. Remember, you can’t take back what you post online! Think long and hard before you hit publish on any social media post or comment. Never post online when you’re angry. You’ll likely say something that you’ll regret later.
- Delete old accounts. Periodically taking stock of all your online accounts and deactivating the ones you no longer use limits the number of opportunities a doxer has to lift your PII, such as your address, banking details, or contact information. Not every site prioritizes security as much as we’d all hope, so it’s best to create online accounts with trustworthy organizations. To track down all your accounts, especially the ones you haven’t used in a while, one technique is to go through your email and make note of all the sites from which you receive notifications. This will provide you with a robust list of companies that have your information. This might be tedious, so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t find them all. Consider splitting up the work over a few weeks to make it less of a chore.
- Use one-time credit cards. One pro tip that may help you protect your information online is to use safe cards, or one-time credit cards. When you use a safe card, you don’t have to provide any identifying information when you make a purchase. Again, the aim here is to limit how many sites have access to your PII.
5. Services That Can Give You Peace of Mind
In addition to the above tips, McAfee can help you fill in the gaps in your defense. McAfee Total Protection is an all-in-one privacy and identity protection service that includes all the tools you need to secure your PII and help you recover if identity theft occurs after a doxing incident. Personal Data Cleanup scans 40 risky data broker sites for your information. If you appear on any of those sites, McAfee will help you remove it to keep your PII out of a doxer’s hands.