What is Doxxing and How to Avoid It
Doxxing is a type of cyber attack that involves discovering the real identity of an Internet user. The attacker then reveals that person’s details so others can target them with malicious attacks. Doxxing is analyzing information posted online by the victim in order to identify and later harass that person.
What is doxxing?
The term “doxxing” comes from the expression “dropping dox”, which was a revenge tactic used by hackers where they dropped malicious information on a rival.
Nowadays, doxxing is used to shame or punish people who would rather stay anonymous, because of their controversial beliefs or other types of non-mainstream activity.
Because most of us are careless with the information we share on the Internet, we tend to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs a cybercriminal can use to find out our real identity, then deploy a string of malicious attacks.
This is called doxxing, and has messed up the lives of more than one person.
Famous Doxxing Cases
Michael Brutsch created an online persona named violentacrez for the Internet messaging board Reddit.
Over the years, he created a reputation as a troll because of his posts on the website. For instance, he created subreddits (subforums) around misogyny or sexualized photos of underage women.
For a long while, Michael Brutsch succeeded in keeping his online identity, violentacrez, a secret.
But Gawker journalist Adrian Chen managed to connect Michael Brutsch to violentacrez, and then went public with the information. In other words, Michael Brutsch was doxxed.
Chen was able to do the doxxing because Michael Brutsch took risks with his identity. For one, he actually met Reddit users in real life, in meetups and parties. In photoshoots, he asked for his face to be blurred. Not only that, but he also hosted a podcast, which Chen used in a phone call with Michael Brutsch to see if the voices matched.
After he was doxxed, Brutsch ended up losing his job and enduring a very public shaming, which was made even worse by his decision to do a CNN interview. After this episode, there is little information to go around as to what happened next to Michael Brutsch. But his life as a notorious Reddit troll is just one search away.
Of course, what Michael Brutsch was doing was illegal and the authorities should have gotten involved to discover who he is and punish him according to the law. But public shaming and vigilantism are not the way to go.
Fake Nazi affiliation
With the current political landscape being what it is, a large number of people are fighting against Nazi and Neonazi organizations rising to attention both online and offline. In the pursuit of trying to silence dangerous agendas, the number of online vigilantes has risen alarmingly. In the past few months, we’ve seen a lot of cases of Neonazi forum users being doxxed, harassed online and even getting fired because of their opinions, as reported in this New York Times piece.
While the cause might seem worthy, doxxing is and remains online vigilantism and this is never good.
Kyle Quinn, a professor from Arkansas, was wrongly accused of participating in the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. Overnight, Mr. Quinn found his image being shared by thousands of people across social media and he was bombarded by messages on Twitter and Instagram. Even worse, his employers were contacted by doxxers demanding Mr. Quinn’s firing.
Another practice related to doxxing is Swatting. Swatting means prank-calling the police or SWAT units to another person’s address. In the online area, a victim getting doxxed can also lead to swatting. Malicious hackers find someone’s address and make fake bomb threats or other serious incidents, then the police show up to the unsuspecting victims’ home.
In December 2017, such an incident lead to the death of Andrew Finch from Kansas. Finch was fatally shot by an officer responding to a false domestic violence dispute.
28-year-old Finch had previously played a Call of Duty game online and started fighting with 25-year-old Tyler Barris. Another player, going under the username “Miruhcle”, escalated the conflict to dramatic proportions. He provided Barris with Finch’s home address and dared him to do a swatting.
Barris had two prior swatting incidents, making calls to the police about fake bomb threats. This time, the doxxing and swatting took a turn for tragedy. Barris sent police at Finch’s house by falsely reporting a murder and hostage situation. Police arrived at Finch’s house and, when he opened the door, shot him dead.
This user’s life was turned upside down after naked photos of her were posted on the infamous website 4chan. By the time she wrote her story, 24,000 men had seen her photos. Her Facebook inbox was filled with soliciting messages from men she never knew. Some of them physically went to see her at the address posted by the 4chan doxxer.
What happens if you take a stand against a popular Instagram page that posts sexist content? Quite a lot, as this journalist would find out.
Stef wrote a series of critical comments on the photos from a famous Instagram account. Her comments touched a nerve, so the admins retaliated by publicly revealing her name, her partner’s name, her telephone number, and address, with an explicit instruction to harass Stef.
The fans duly followed the instructions and insulted Stef with racist comments, unearthed some of her business ventures as well as threatening to reveal her Social Security Number.
The harassment eventually died out, but only after Stef went through complicated legal hoops and issued DMCA takedown notices.
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Cybercriminals and trolls 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 reveal your identity.
Here’s what you should look out for if you want to stay anonymous on the web.
1. Revealing your identity through the information you post
The more you write on forums and message boards, the higher your chances become of accidentally revealing personal information about you. If you use social media, it’s even more dangerous.
You don’t even have to outright say where you live. Instead, it’s possible to roughly pinpoint your location by way of elimination.
For instance, you make a post saying you don’t live in the Americas. In another you said you wanted to visit a different continent, so you chose Asia.
With only two posts, the cybercriminal made an educated guess you most likely lived in Europe.
In another post, you said Walmart isn’t present in your country, but that Carrefour is the dominant retail chain.
By now, your possible location has been narrowed down to 3-4 countries.
As the doxxer keeps sifting through your information, he slowly figures out what country you live in, and even your current city.
2. Packet sniffing
Packet sniffing is a hacking method where the doxxer intercepts your Internet data, looking for valuable information about you, such as emails, passwords, credit card data and so on.
Basically, the doxxer connects to a network, such as a Wi-Fi, breaks its security measures and after that, he intercepts all of the data coming in and out of the network.
What’s more, the malicious hacker has access to this data in real-time, so everything you type in a form will simultaneously show up on his screen.
Here’s a more thorough guide on how you can protect yourself from wireless sniffing.
3. Matching information between an online persona and social media profile
Ross Ulbricht was the founder of the infamous darknet website Silk Road, which traded drugs, guns and so on.
To hide his identity, he used the nickname “Dread Pirate Roberts”.
The police was able to connect Ross Ulbricht and Dread Pirate Roberts partly because both of these “personas” said they were a) libertarians b) followers of the Mises Institute c) both of them wanted to create “an economic simulation of what it would be like to live in a world without systemic use of force”.
During the trial, Ross Ulbricht built his defense claiming he gave away the Dread Pirate Roberts account, and someone else made Silk Road the Internet’s hot spot for illicit trade.
As far as coincidences go, this was a bit too much to believe. The judge threw out the defense and sentenced Ross Ulbricht to a long time in jail.
4. Doxxers analyze file metadata
Microsoft Office files such as Word or Excel documents have something called “metadata”.
This is information about the document, which you can find by right-clicking a Microsoft Office file -> Properties -> Details
This section contains data about who made the file, when, from what computer, the company who made it and even total editing time.
Simply by glancing over this metadata, a doxxer can learn a great deal about you. Here’s a guide by Microsoft on how to limit the amount of metadata you share with a document.
But it’s not just Microsoft Office files that remember metadata, even photos have something similar called EXIF data. This contains data regarding camera or smartphone model, resolution, location (if you enabled GPS) and time when it was taken.
5. Doxxing through IP logging
IP loggers are tools used on the Internet to sniff out a person’s IP address. In a nutshell, these loggers attach an invisible code to a message or email, and once the receiver opens the message, the code tracks his IP address and secretly sends it back to the IP logger.
1. Protect your IP address with a VPN/Proxy
VPN is short for Virtual Private Network, and acts as a filter for Internet traffic. Basically, the traffic from your PC or other device goes into the VPN and acquires its identifying properties, meaning its IP address, location, and any other similar data. It even encrypts your data and makes it so that even your ISP isn’t able to figure out your IP address.
An IP logger, for instance, wouldn’t reveal your real personal IP, but the IP of the VPN.
A proxy server is a bit different than a VPN, even though it works on roughly the same principles. For one, a proxy server doesn’t encrypt your data as a VPN does, so an ISP knows your real IP address at all times. Since your Internet traffic isn’t encrypted, it’s also more vulnerable to hacking and other interception methods.
2. Don’t use the Login with Facebook/Google buttons
Most apps and websites that require you to register now use the “Login with Facebook” or “Login with Google” buttons.
These login methods register you on the website by using the email you used to create your Facebook or Google account.
But on top of that, you will automatically give the website information attached your Facebook/Google account, such as current city, job, phone number, your native language, family info and more.
Sure, it’s not as convenient, but by introducing your data manually, you can control the type of information the website has about you.
It’s especially critical to follow Facebook security best practices, to secure all of your social media accounts, including Instagram, and to be aware of how cybercriminals hack Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat passwords.
3. Don’t use your personal email to register on forums or other similar websites.
Chances are your main email goes something like this: [firstname][lastname]@gmail.com/yahoo.com/outlook.com.
It’s a simple, professional-looking combination. However, it immediately gives away your identity if someone learns it.
In most cases, forums have weak security measures so malicious hackers can break into them and then leak the emails used to register the accounts.
But if the website publicly displays user emails, then all an attacker needs to do is to simply check out your user profile.
So as takeaway advice, use a different email than your main one when registering on forums or message boards.
4. Hide your personal data from a website’s WHOIS.
Owning a blog or website requires that you register the Internet domain with some personal information. This information is then stored in a database called WHOIS.
The problem is that this database is public, meaning everyone can see the information used to register a website, including addresses, phone numbers and so on.
However, by paying a small fee, you can hide some of your personal information from the public search.
To edit your information, simply go to your domain registrar and see what options they provide for you to make your WHOIS information private.
5. Remove yourself from data broker websites
Some 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, email.
If you find this hard to believe, then simply check out http://www.peoplefinder.com or www.whitepages.com. We warn you though, the amount of information stored in this sort of database can be downright creepy.
Fortunately, most of these companies offer a way for you to opt-out and remove any information they have about you. Unfortunately, this is bad for business, so they make it as difficult and time-consuming as possible.
The service we previously recommended, DeleteMe, cleans up all this information for you, so you don’t have to. As soon as the European General Data Protection Regulation kicks in, companies will be forced to make it easier for you to delete your information. Until that happens, you have to rely on this guide to avoid getting doxxed.
6. Make sure Google doesn’t have any personal information about you
This can be a pretty tough undertaking since you would have to go up against one of the world’s biggest corporations.
Simply google your name, and see if you’ve revealed who you are on internet forums, Reddit, niche social networks, messaging boards or any other similar websites.
Delete any information you find, including the accounts if they aren’t valuable to you anymore. If you don’t have access, ask the web administrator to do it for you.
Just how much info does Google have on you? Check out your Google History by typing https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity in your browser when logged in to a Google account. Google knows your location as well – you can find your personal Google map with all the places you visited at the https://www.google.com/maps/timeline URL.
Moreover, secure any account you have with Google by following the rules outlined in the ultimate cybersecurity guide. Make sure you follow the password security best practices. Lastly, don’t reveal too much about yourself when using your smartphone. You need to check your app permissions and follow close the smartphone security guide.
You can also check out DeleteMe, a service that removes your personal data from the Internet.
7. Knowing your rights
If you live within the EU or Argentina, then you benefit from a so-called “right to be forgotten”. This allows you to petition a search engine to remove search results concerning you.
The legal options available in the United States are more limited, but Google for one does offer an option for you to remove content about you.
Reading this, you might say you’re safe from doxxing because you don’t have anything to hide. Is that really true?
We’re not implying that you might do anything immoral or illegal,. We’re saying everyone has some aspects of their lives that they would rather keep private. Those aspects may be harmless but they should remain private. They can range from hiding a surprise or a possibly insensitive comment from your spouse to keeping a political opinion from your coworkers and so on. Everyone has something they want to keep for themselves or share with a specific community.
Moreover, there are a lot of angry people on the internet who rely on doxxing to “win” an argument. Any seemingly innocuous comment of yours has the potential to draw the anger of an internet mob.
Avoid getting doxxed. Follow the steps outlined in this anti-doxxing guide to stay safe and anonymous. For an added layer of security, here’s a guide to online privacy you can implement in under 1 hour.
Have you ever had to deal with a fake social media profile? If yes, tell us your story in the comments and also what you’ve learned from the whole thing.
This article was initially published on February 2, 2017, by Paul Cucu and was updated on January 3, 2018 by Ana Dascalescu.
Nowadays, doxxing is used to shame or punish people who would rather stay anonymous, because of their controversial beliefs or other types of non-mainstream activity.
joe momma lol
Great read, but didn’t most of us know this going in that the internet is a spiders web with hungry spiders lurking about? We saw this from early on in the 90s that staying anonymous would be impossible. So it was better to self censor and not give any ammunition for one’s supposed enemies frenemies. As far as data mining goes, yeah it’s a minefield with many nefarious players looking to make a buck using modern technology…… I personally think the internet is a golden cage, in the end “a golden cage is still a cage” so eventually to remain free means not participating and walking away from the electronic utopia/dystopia……..
Crash Override includes a frightening list of things that hackers can do to exploit, intimidate and shame you online. They can, for example, break into your bank accounts or your Skype account – from which they can harass contacts associated with that account.
Muchos Gracias for your blog. Really thank you! Great.
I find it interesting that you never intend to actually investigate it from a point-of-view that isn’t from the mainstream.
“How a Nazi gets doxxed – did he deserve it?
With the current political landscape being what it is, a large number of people are fighting against Nazi and Neonazi organizations rising to attention both online and offline. In the pursuit of trying to silence dangerous agendas, the number of online vigilantes has risen alarmingly. In the past few months, we’ve seen a lot of cases of Neonazi forum users being doxxed, harassed online and even getting fired because of their opinions, as reported in this New York Times piece.”
OMG PEOPLE IF YOU HAVE SOMEONE TAKE YOUR INFORMATION AND CREATE FAKE VERSIONS OF YOU TO OBTAIN CREDIT, CREATING FAKE SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS, FB, IG, LINKED IN, ETC.
That is unacceptable, it is happening non stop. These are the new hood rats. Hackers are the new crack heads. I may sound judgmental. I may sound like a B-word. Yes I am. I am sick and tired of this. My sons Identity has been stolen and so has mine for 2 years now. I am not afraid. I am reaching out to EFF. What is there to fear some loser behind a computer.
I have faced every demon you can face in life head on. I do not cower to anyone or anything. I have been locked out of over 30 emails including my social media IG FB Linked IN etc. I dont even talk about it because I dont want to give it power. I have raised an Autistic son, I have walked through addiction, this nonsense is merely stupid. I find it a compliment that someone finds me such a threat that they have to lock me out of everything because they would not dare face me and say what they want to say as they are a coward behind a computer.
I am a strong woman who will make it through anything and keep giving to everyone. I am the strong one.
Don’t give anyone your power ever
You’ll be more at risk if you engage in controversial discussion or active internet communities, but even a viral blog post could be enough to attract the doxxer’s attention. And as we’ve seen, cases of mistaken identity are not uncommon.
There seems to be an assumption that ‘vigilantism’ is automatically wrong. But is it?
If neither the website nor the law will deal with unpleasant immoral nasty stuff, surely we should be grateful that someone somewhere is doing it?
I didn’t even know that there was a term for when your real identity gets discovered while you’re hacked. But to think that it could happen is quite scary, and nowadays, while we share so much on social media, sadly, it’s quite likely to happen.
Quinn, a rising star in the gaming world, was the victim of an orchestrated harassment campaign carried out by a hateful mob. The widely-publicised incident, known as Gamergate, began when her ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, published a long online screed of over 9,000 words; in it he accused her, among other things, of having slept with a game reviewer in exchange for a positive review. According to Quinn, who details the experience of being doxxed in her new memoir, Gjoni “optimised” and marketed the copy to incite the hatred of its members. Many of the ensuing attacks against her were coordinated in online forums and in chat rooms.
Cool background story! Thanks for the details Magdalena! 🙂
Gamergate was bullshit. Some people need to shut the fuck up and stick to what they know. Quinn was, and is, a liar.
guess i really need to get a VPN but i live on such a tight budget i can barely afford anything 🙁 i have enough for bills and thats usually it..i rely on food stamps for food. the thing is i want to start a channel where i talk on various topics but there kinda controversial. and certain people on youtube i know would doxx me if i spoke out 🙁 i won’t mention names out of the off chance that somehow he finds his name here and decides to dox me.
Doxxing is an unethical if not illegal practice and is a form of bullying someone used by creepy little cowards who fear to say anything to your face since you might punch them out. They think they are anonymous sitting at their keyboards. It might, then, be a form of Karma to Dox them. Once you stand up to a bully they are less prone to attempt to bully you again. There really needs to be a good proactive way to counter these activities.
Hello, there’s a troll that goes around the internet named xxnike629xx also known as Suiton629 or xxnike0629xx. He’s an unpleasant jerk who uses “happy-sounding” words to hide his malicious intent to cause disruptions across comments and forums and he rips off people on ebay by making his products with inflated costs. Does he deserve to get doxxed because he put up his full name Charlie I. Kim on the internet? I honestly think that Mr. Charlie I. Kim should get doxxed as a good lesson for his disruptive trolling on the internet, but I want to hear the opinion on everyone else.
I found it strangely odd that I share the first name with the Paul CUCU all caps, I thought Paul, See You, See You.
Cheers for notified on this. Tons of Info to share.
The nazi section seems a bit like pointless virtue signaling rather than serious advice. Suggest junking it if the goal is an educational blog.
Thanks for dropping by and for the feedback. This post was written by our colleague Ana, who is no longer part of the team, so I will answer in her stead. I understand where you may be coming from, since virtue signaling can indeed be pretty obnoxious. However, re-reading Ana’s article, I feel that the example (especially since it’s a part of a larger list of examples) is useful for people to understand how mixing political views with personal-targetted action can lead to really aggressive acts. I think her point was to condone any kind of vigilance action – cybernetic or otherwise – because sometimes we might even be wrong in labeling a person as having a particular stance which we disapprove of. And to warn against the dangers of being targetted by attacks like doxxing simply on suspicion that you may belong to a certain political camp, which is scary and very wrong.
That’s why I decided not to change Ana’s article in the original form that she wrote it in. Hope you understand and that my reasoning on it helps. Thank you again for your feedback!
Right now it sounds like BlogEngine is the best blogging platform out there right now.
(from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?
Soooo, if you happen to be a nefarious criminal, a journalist checking your background could go to jail?
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Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to protect against hackers?
I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on. Any recommendations?
targeting anyone is an unfair bullying tactic .. period . Shame on you ! hope one day someone does that to you, your mother, sister, or son .. then only when you experience it up close and personal, will you understand the truth ..
Thank You for sharing…
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Sadly trolls will harass and stalk teens who are unaware of doxxing and datamining. Something must change.
Someone overheard people are implanting others without permission illegally and possibly for revenge activity..through dental or surgical operations and then stealing with hacking those implants! They hack the implants that will steal your T.V. signals and Computer signals for your pictures or information or to set you up with false offender crime as they can steal and then put back others with offender stuff on them…or get free T.V. and computer at free will~ It has this in a web site called: Want to know. com just wondering how to find out and if it will hurt you since your not grounded and how to sue them by finding the signal and who to contact to make an investigation happen?..? and what about electric harassment and or mind control harassment using audio implants in dental work? They can dox you also that way right? read about this stuff what is and what isn’t true?
Nice information on this article .Really very use full information . I fully understand on this information Good work please continue.
@Casper Ghost Yeah you are a piece of crap. Hope someone DOXXS you.
Doxxing defined as revealing a person’s PUBLIC information is NOT a cyber attack! I do it on the regular if someone is threatening people online or they are trolling a thread. It evens the playing field when people realize they aren’t some nameless, faceless shadow typing words on a keyboard. Don’t like it? Then lobby for private information to stay private. But, sites won’t do that because they make money from selling my information to advertisers and mine data to keep on file and disseminate it to various governments and organizations.
I’m not sorry for it, either. I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s legal, which it is.
The rest of the definitions are bad because it is invasion of privacy on individual networks and devices which is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than searching Google for info about people. Nice scare tactics, though.
So basically you’re a vindictive cunt over someone trolling. It’s the damn internet; either you ignore or block the person.
its….. not legal………..
Until someone has obtained unauthorized access to an infrastructure and obtained sensitive and/or personally identifying information as a result of the breach, it is completely legal. Using data brokers to mine public facing information is not a crime, but it may be a violation of a web services Terms of Service if you post it publicly.
I think it’s more about what kind of information you reveal.