What is doxing, and why is it dangerous?

If you’ve ever wondered what is doxing, we explain the origins and dangers of this growing online phenomenon.

Monday, 8 July, 2024

The internet might seem a benign place if you’re an occasional visitor, but deeper exploration reveals a myriad of threats and dangers.

We’ve previously explained how navigating the Dark Web safely takes a certain amount of skill, but the Surface Web contains people you wouldn’t necessarily want to encounter, either.

This is especially true when it comes to doxing – a process which isn’t illegal in the UK if it merely republishes information already in the public domain.

But what is doxing? Why is it so harmful? And what can we as consumers do to protect ourselves against its malign influence?

X marks the spot

Sometimes spelled with an additional x, doxing is the process of finding personally identifiable information (PII) about someone and publishing it online without their permission.

A large proportion of the information used to accomplish this is already available online, typically published on a victim’s social media accounts.

Examples might include your address and contact details, the school your children attend, selfies and photos, controversial posts and comments.

Alongside this, data may also be obtained covertly or illegally through database hacking like the recent catastrophic Ticketmaster breach, stalking or infiltration of private accounts.

Illegally obtained data might include financial details or your affiliation to political parties or pressure groups – anything which could embarrass or distress you if publicised.

Malware is sometimes programmed to seek and obtain confidential data, though as the objective of doxing is typically harassment, PII already in circulation may suffice.

For instance, controversial political opinions might be published online alongside your contact details by people with strongly opposing views.

That’s especially problematic in today’s cancel-culture age, when professionally offended individuals actively seek revenge against anyone who doesn’t adhere to their ideologies.

Doxers use a variety of techniques to cause distress, from whipping up hatred on social media outlets to sending unwanted takeaway deliveries, and from cyberbullying to identity theft.

Dry dox

There are various ways to minimise the risks of falling victim to a doxing account.

Firstly, permanently delete social media accounts, which provide fertile territory for doxers seeking kompromat on potential targets.

We’ve previously discussed how to live without social media, especially since the benefits it provides are now routinely outweighed by the harm it causes.

If you can’t live without it, stay safe on social media by not posting personal content any more. Examine your history and erase anything personally revealing or potentially contentious, too.

Delete all photographs of the outside of your home, any vehicles you own or drive (even if the registration plates are obscured), photos of under-18s and contact details.

Remove any posts which might offend people wanting to be upset by something, especially hot-potato topics such as politics, the culture wars and gender.

Be particularly wary about information uploaded via apps, especially dating apps. These are fertile territory for doxing, especially if you’re in the habit of replicating usernames across multiple accounts.

There isn’t much you can do about former partners doxing you, though their methods are generally less sophisticated than professional criminals seeking monetary gain.

One interesting exercise is to enter your own name into multiple search engines and see what turns up.

It may be possible to request certain results are hidden, ensuring other people can’t find them.

Ask third-party websites to delete information you don’t want the world seeing (known as a takedown request) and do the same with any platforms being used to dox you.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!