There’s no person alive or dead who hasn’t done something embarrassing in their lives – or doesn’t have a secret, in general. But in the digital age, secrets have a short lifespan.
Someone may dig up your secret and post it online, along with your home address, phone number – and a call to action.
What’s more, doxers don’t always aim to embarrass their victim by revealing their secrets online. You may end up being a doxing target simply because you’ve ordered “edit my paper service” or you’re pro-choice. There’s always a risk.
And the consequences of doxing can extend well beyond the internet. People have been swatted, harassed, and had their identities stolen after their personal information was posted online.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, fear is a reasonable reaction. But there’s a way you can get over it: do everything you can to prevent it. Here are five things you should do to get started.
1. Always Use a VPN When Going Online
When it comes to technical ways to de-anonymize a person, packet sniffing and IP logging are the two most common ones. And you can protect yourself against both of them by using a VPN.
Let’s start with what VPNs are. These software tools encrypt your outgoing and incoming traffic and pass it through one of their servers (you can choose the location). But be wary of free VPNs: if you don’t pay for the service, who is?
Packet sniffing means a hacker intercepts your traffic to steal data. That can include which websites you visit, what data you transfer (that can include your bank details or SSN, for example), etc. But if the traffic is end-to-end encrypted, hackers won’t be able to figure out what it contains – not without the key.
And as for IP logging, this one is straightforward. As any VPN replaces your IP address with that of its server, there’s no way a third party can connect the dots between you and the website you visit.
2. Secure Your Social Media Profiles
Social media stalking is another popular way doxers dig up dirt on their targets. The reason is, people are sharing all sorts of information there for everyone to see. And sometimes, social media also becomes the source of those embarrassing life stories.
To avoid them being used against you, you should do a security check-up on all of your social media profiles. Here’s your starter to-do list:
- Close off your account – don’t let any stranger on the internet see its contents;
- Restrict access to your posts (you may want to set up several categories for it if possible, too);
- Review your friend list (make sure it includes only people you know and trust).
But even once you’ve done that, go back to your old posts and delete those that reveal a bit too much (or make them visible only for yourself). And in the future, avoid tagging your location and oversharing!
3. Use Different Usernames & Email Addresses
Doxers can also connect the dots between your various online accounts and combine all the information they find on each account into a comprehensive profile.
For example, let’s say you don’t use your real name on your Facebook account – but you did on your ancient YouTube channel. You posted a link to a video from it on Facebook several years ago. A doxer can dig up that link and see that you used a different name on YouTube – and deduce that it’s your real name.
Or, doxers can look for your Twitter handle on Reddit – and find posts and comments that you thought you’d never have linked back to you.
All of this is to say: don’t stick to the same username on different websites, especially on social media. On top of that, it’s a good idea to use different email addresses for creating accounts, too. That’s good not just for preserving your anonymity – but for your data security, as well.
4. Don’t Leave These 4 Types of Information Online
Some information should never make it online. And “online” doesn’t mean exclusively “to your social media posts.” It means anywhere online: in the cloud storage, in your emails or messages, etc.
What kind of information should you be careful with? Here are four examples:
- Your Social Security number;
- Your home address;
- Your driver’s license or passport number;
- Your bank account or credit card details.
Let’s reiterate: saving scans of your documents to the cloud is a bad idea, especially if the service can’t vouch for the servers’ security and/or you don’t have multi-factor authentication turned on. Sending any sensitive information by email, Facebook, or text message is something you should never do, either.
5. Remove Your Data from Data Brokers & People Search Websites
Now, it’s time to talk about a really scary part: data brokers and people search websites. All doxers need is your phone number – and they can get the rest of the information from those (completely legal, mind you) services. They just need to pay.
How do those services get their hands on your personal data? Most of it comes from scraping your online information. Some of it can come from public records, credit card companies, or retailers, too. That information can include how well you study, which subjects you struggle with, whether you own a car or have a credit card, and more.
If you want to know them by name, here are five major data brokers:
- Equifax Information Services;
You can request them to delete your personal information by filling out a form or reaching out to them directly. The downside is that procedures differ – and you have to go through them one by one. Plus, in several months, your data may end up in those databases again.
So, you might want to consider investing in a paid service like DeleteMe. It essentially submits those requests on your behalf from time to time.
Doxing may not be a new phenomenon (people have been getting doxed since at least the 1970s), but it’s become a lot easier with the onset of the digital age. There’s just so much more data up for the grabs online – and that’s why doxing has become more frequent in the past decade.
And yes, the perspective of getting doxed by someone who just doesn’t like you is scary. But you can still have peace of mind if you stick to the five rules above – and keep your online presence clean and safe.