When someone is doxxed, it doesn’t just mean that private and otherwise identifying information about them has been compromised. It means that this information has been published freely on the Internet for all to see. Many of the most famous examples of doxxing of the last few years fall into this category – like when Lou Dobbs recently published the full name, address and telephone number of a Trump accuser to his nearly 800,000 followers on Twitter.
Novelist Elena Ferrante was also a notable recent doxxing victim, albeit in a slightly different way. As a novelist, Ferrante was fiercely protective of her private life – even the name “Elena Ferrante” was always known to be a pen name. However, after an intentional doxxing by a journalist at the New York Review of Books, the author’s real name was revealed – and suddenly someone who wanted to avoid the public eye at all costs found herself smack dab in the middle of it against her will.
Why Doxxing Matters
Think for a moment about what might happen if even a few of these key pieces of information were suddenly to become public knowledge. As most of the “security questions” you answer when you sign up for a new account are based around this basic information, someone who has been doxxed could quickly fall victim to compromised email addresses, online bank accounts and more. Attackers could ruin a person’s credit, destroy their reputation, open loans or credit cards and more – and this is all before someone truly realizes the extent of the problem they’re facing in the first place.
Doxxing victims have to worry about a large number of different things like extortion, harassment, online shaming and even vigilante justice – which is why protecting this private data at all costs is so important.
If you’re concerned with becoming a doxxing victim yourself, one of the best ways to prevent this from happening involves taking steps to hide your digital footprints TODAY. To that end, Tor is a great way to accomplish this without making any major modifications to your browsing habits.
Tor is a free software that routes all Internet traffic through thousands of relays, essentially “masking” its origin and destination. If you used the computer in your apartment to log into your online bank account, for example, it wouldn’t necessarily take someone who knew what they were doing that long to find out more information about you if they were truly paying attention. They might not be able to access the account itself but using your IP address they could find an approximate location where you are (or at least, where your computer is), and at that point its only a matter of time before additional dominoes start to fall.
Tor, on the other hand, essentially removes this from the equation – making it exceedingly difficult and even downright impossible for a third party to conduct traffic analysis or other types of network surveillance using these means.
VPNs – Virtual Private Networks
Another step that you can take to protect yourself from getting doxxed online involves the use of a VPN, or virtual private network. VPNs essentially “encrypt” all data transmitted over an Internet connection, even if it’s a public one. It essentially takes a public network like a Wi-Fi hotspot and turns it into a private one WITHOUT affecting the actual network itself.
If the Internet were a four lane highway, a VPN would be the lane on the far left side of the road that only your car was allowed to use. Everyone still gets to ride on the same highway in the same direction, but nobody can move into your lane and interfere with you in any way – or see into your car, for that matter.
Use Common Sense
Finally, the number one way to protect yourself from getting doxxed online involves using common sense at all costs. If you know that the answer to your security question on your bank’s website is “What was the name of the street you grew up on?” then do NOT post that information on your Facebook profile for the world to see.
Nobody is saying that if you value your privacy you should give up social media altogether – just be smart about it. Some things should NOT be shared for privacy reasons and if you DO become a doxxing victim and have to go through the hell that follows, you’ll certainly wish you had been a little more judicious about what you chose to share with your virtual friends.