What Does Doxxed Mean?
A comic first printed in 1993 says, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” While not precisely true, the Internet does provide a level of anonymity or pseudonymity. This is especially true in certain communities — such as hacking and blockchain groups — where it’s possible for famous figures to be known only by a pseudonym or handle.
Doxxing refers to the practice of breaking this anonymity. If a user is doxxed, someone has collected and published information linking their real-world identity to their online persona.
The Origins of Doxxing
“Doxxing” is a slang word that has its roots in the word document. “Dropping dox” or “doxxing” involves collecting and publishing documentation that links a pseudonymous online user with their real-world identity. These documents could include the person’s reach name, home address, phone number, or other personally identifiable information.
Doxxing implies that the target’s real-world identity is performed without their consent. In some circles, anonymity is key, and revealing someone’s identity can be harmful to them. For example, some cybercriminal groups have doxxed members of rival groups in the past, which has opened the door for arrests and law enforcement efforts.
Where Doxxing Occurs
Doxxing can occur in any situation where someone is trying to remain anonymous or pseudonymous. Some scenarios where doxxing may occur include:
- Cyberbullying: Some Internet users — including children — have public online profiles or many online connections. If these users are doxxed — with their names, phone numbers, addresses, etc. — exposed online, they are more vulnerable to harassment. For example, the practice of swatting — sending armed law enforcement officers to an address as a prank — requires knowledge of the target’s address.
- Hacktivism: Some hacktivist groups, such as Anonymous, have used doxxing as one of their tactics designed to effect change. The rationale for this is that exposing the identities of people who have committed crimes or engaged in other unethical behavior makes them easier to arrest or exposes them to potential harassment. For example, Anonymous has doxxed many alleged KKK members and supporters of the Q-Anon conspiracy theory group.
These are only some scenarios in which someone could be doxxed, and doxxing can occur any time that anonymity is broken. For example, anonymous backers or attackers of blockchain-based protocols are common targets of doxxing as well.
The Impacts of Doxxing
Doxxing isn’t necessarily illegal in many jurisdictions. Most of the information revealed is publicly available or accessible through legal means. The main effort is collecting and analyzing that data to determine someone’s real-world identity. In fact, doxxing uses many of the same tools and techniques as investigative journalism.
However, doxxing is often unethical because it can expose the target to harassment and can put their health or lives at risk. For example, many high-profile politicians have been doxxed, resulting in home invasion, assault, and other crimes.
Doxxing is the practice of revealing sensitive information about someone — including their real-world identities — against their will. Doxxing can be very harmful to the target since it opens them up to pranks, harassment, and potential injury or death.