What Is Doxxing? 5 Ways to Protect Yourself

By: Beth Brindle  | 
The internet has become a land of incessant trolling and inflammatory comments, but be careful of how far you go on your social media accounts because there could be repercussions. The last thing you want is someone maliciously distributing your private data online. Andrew Brookes / Getty Images/Image Source

What is doxxing? The practice, also spelled "doxing," is when netizens use the internet to source and collect someone's personal and private information and then publicly release that information online [source: S-W].

Derived from the word "documents," the term is an abbreviated version of "dropping dox," a method of revenge that dates back to the hacker culture of the early 1990s [sources: Goldman, Honan].


How Doxxing Works

The internet makes it easy to find publicly available information, such as landline phone numbers or mailing addresses, once you know a person's name, and white pages-style directory sites have long replaced old-school phone books.

But doxxing takes things much further than an innocent search for contact information.


Doxxers often set out to tie an anonymous online profile on social media sites to the true identity of the person behind it. They then publicly reveal that person's real name, along with personal details ranging from home addresses and unlisted cell phone numbers to Social Security numbers, the names of family members or bank account details.

Like identity theft, doxxing usually requires a bit of unscrupulous investigation on the part of the person digging up the info, such as stalking the target's social media profiles looking for pets' names, maiden names or other clues that they may use to guess passwords or answer security questions.

Unlike identity theft, however, the goal of doxxing is typically retribution, harassment or humiliation rather than access to financial accounts. Of course, once doxxers reveal a victim's personal details publicly, there's no telling what other internet users may do with them.


Doxxing Victims

Both private and public figures have been "doxxed" and, surprisingly, the practice is often completely legal, especially if the information is in the public domain. However, established communities like Reddit widely frown upon the practice [sources: Honan, Pelisek, S-W].

In 2013, doxxing (both the word and the practice) gained mainstream exposure when celebrities including Beyoncé, Ashton Kutcher and Hillary Clinton had closely guarded information such as their home addresses and cell phone numbers revealed online [source: Pelisek].


More recently, some have used the word "doxxing" — sometimes controversially — to describe the practices of investigative journalists who use techniques associated with doxxing to identify and research the targets of their reporting [sources: Goldman, S-W].

How to Protect Yourself From Doxxing

Doxxing can lead to death threats and people showing up to your physical address — actions that may require that you involve law enforcement. To protect yourself from doxxing, you should:

  1. Use a virtual private network. A VPN can keep your information private that a doxxer would otherwise try to exploit through your internet service provider.
  2. Create better passwords. Even though it's easier to memorize one password, avoid using the same one for every account. Also, use unique passwords that are not easy to guess.
  3. Hide domain registration information. This database can contain personal information, like your home address.
  4. Create separate email accounts. If you use different emails for different parts of your life — for example, financial and social online accounts — an attacker won't have access to all your information.
  5. Keep personal details off the internet. Don't share your birthdate, hometown or other private information online so that a doxxer cannot easily gain access to your accounts.


Frequently Answered Questions

What happens if you got Doxxed?
If doxxing happens to you, it means someone has exposed your personal information online. This could include your home address, phone number, email address and even your credit card information. Someone might dox you for malicious reasons, such as to stalk or harass you. It might also happen accidentally, such as when a website experiences a security breach and it leads to leaking personal information of users.
Is doxxing illegal?
Doxxing is not illegal, but it can be considered a form of cyberbullying. It is important to think carefully before posting personal information about someone online. Once information is posted, it is difficult to remove and may be used maliciously.
Why is it called getting doxxed?
Derived from the word "documents," the term is an abbreviated version of "dropping dox," a method of revenge that dates back to the hacker culture of the early 1990s.

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