What is Doxing?

Imagine someone putting your personal information out online for thousands of strangers to see—your home address, phone number, even details about your family members or workplace. This invasive practice, known as doxing, has become a significant concern in the digital age. It’s not just about privacy anymore; it’s about the potential for real-world harm. This article explains what doxing is and how to prevent it from happening to you.

What is doxing?

Doxing (or “doxxing”) is the practice of revealing another individual’s personal information (home address, full name, phone number, place of work, and more) in an online public space without the person’s consent.

The term “doxing” comes from the hacker world and references the act of “dropping dox” (as in “docs”) with malicious intent to the victim. The severity of the personal data leak may also go beyond phone numbers and addresses to include releasing private photos, Social Security numbers (SSNs), financial details, personal texts, and other more invasive attacks.

What’s an example of doxing?

One of the first incidents of doxing took place back in the late 1990s when users of the online forum Usenet circulated a list of suspected neo-Nazis. The list included the suspected individuals’ email accounts, phone numbers, and addresses.

One of the most infamous examples of doxing was during 2014’s Gamergate controversy, involving issues of sexism and misogyny in the video game industry. Female video game developers and journalists were subjected to relentless harassment and doxing, placing their personal safety in jeopardy.

Several high-profile cases of celebrity doxing have made headlines over the years, serving as stark reminders of the dangers of online harassment and privacy invasion. In 2017, a woman hacked Selena Gomez’s email and leaked her Los Angeles-area home address online. In 2021, rapper Kanye West famously doxed Drake when he tweeted the star’s home address.

Is doxing illegal?

While doxing can hurt people, it’s not necessarily a crime. In some cases, a doxer finds publicly available information and shares it broadly. Since the data is public record, it’s not illegal to share it. A doxer might invite others to visit the home or workplace of their target rather than taking a specific action.

That said, it is illegal to hack a device or computer without permission from the owner — even if the information collected is never used. The legality of doxing must be taken on a case-by-case basis, and law enforcement must build its case based on existing applicable laws. For example, if the doxer attempted to apply for a credit card using your private data, they could be prosecuted for fraud or identity theft.

How to protect yourself from doxing

You can follow a few critical practices to help protect yourself from doxing. Start by limiting what you share online, using strong passwords, and taking advantage of secure technologies like virtual private networks (VPNs).

Limit the personal information you share online

Limiting the amount of personal information you share online is one of the best ways to protect yourself from doxing. Avoid oversharing personal details of your life (like your child’s name, pet’s name, or place of work), and maintain the highest possible privacy settings for any social media app or website.

You should also take caution when tagging friends, locations, and photos, as this may give doxers more access to your data. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Safely Sharing Online to learn more.

Check data broker websites for your information

Data brokers are companies that mine the internet and public records for financial and credit reports, social media accounts, and more. They then sell that data to advertisers, companies, or even individuals who may use it to dox somebody.

You might be surprised to see the amount of sensitive information available to anyone who wants it with an online search. Data brokers often have contact information, including real names, current and former addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, social media profiles, political affiliations, and other information that most consider private.

While you can remove your private information from many data broker sites, they tend to make the process tedious and frustrating. McAfee Personal Data Cleanup makes the process much easier. All you have to do is enter your name, date of birth, and home address, and we’ll scan it across high-risk data broker sites. We’ll then help you remove it.

Use strong passwords and keep them secure

Having strong passwords can make you less vulnerable to hackers and doxers. Keep yourself more secure by following a few simple rules.

  • Have long and strong passwords (at least eight to 10 characters).
  • Don’t create passwords that include any words from your social media sites (like pet or child names).
  • Change your passwords frequently — at least every three months.
  • Don’t use the same password for multiple online accounts — unique passwords only.
  • Use random sequences of letters and numbers without identifiable words.
  • Turn on two-factor or multi-factor authentication (MFA) for critical accounts (Gmail, LinkedIn, Facebook, online banking).
  • Don’t write down passwords (or keep them in a secure location if you must).

Make password management much easier by using a password manager and generator tool. True Key uses the strongest encryption available to decrypt your existing passwords and can help generate new strong passwords.

Use a virtual private network

When browsing on public Wi-Fi networks like those at airports and coffee shops, your data is at greater risk of being compromised by cybercriminals who may lift sensitive information for personal gain.

A virtual private network (VPN) service (like the one found in McAfee+) gives you an additional layer of protection by hiding your IP address and browsing activities when you’re on an unsecured network.

Protect your device with antivirus protection

Scammers, doxers, and hackers work hard to get personal information every day. With McAfee+, you can use the internet with confidence knowing you have the support of award-winning antivirus software to keep you and your family members safe online.

Get real-time threat protection through malware detection, quarantine, and removal, and schedule real-time or on-demand file and application scanning. You’ll also benefit from an advanced firewall for home network security.

Keep your online information secure with McAfee

We all increasingly rely on the internet to manage our lives. As a result, it’s important to address the risks that come with the rewards.

Comprehensive cybersecurity tools like those that come with McAfee+ can help you avoid scams, doxing attacks, identity theft, phishing, and malware. We can also help keep your sensitive information off the dark web with our Personal Data Cleanup.

With McAfee’s experts on your side, you can enjoy everything the web offers with the confidence of total protection.

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