What doxxing is, and why it matters

Stealing identities is not a new crime. Along with fraudulent payments and swiping confidential corporate data, identify theft is pretty conventional. A somewhat newer menace related to ID theft is public doxing.

According to an Economist article:

The term “dox” (also spelled “doxx”, and short for “[dropping] documents”) first came into vogue as a verb around a decade ago, referring to malicious hackers’ habit of collecting personal and private information, including home addresses and national identity numbers. The data are often released publicly against a person’s wishes.

Doxing, more often than not, is used as a means of revenge. The goal is to reveal sensitive information belonging to high-profile individuals, creating a potential blow to the victim’s reputation as well as a serious security threat. It has even been excused as a form of investigative reporting (check out the Newsweek controversy around unveiling Bitcoin founder’s identity, down to his home address). An article in The Atlantic asserts:

For journalists, practices that might be labeled ‘doxing’ are generally seen as a good thing. At journalism’s core, it’s making previously unknown information public. It’s taking a secret and making that secret public. It can be the stuff of long-form narrative, the stuff that wins you Pulitzers.

However, many argue that this is solely another form of digital harassment or ‘online trolling.’ Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of this type of data breach is that IT expertise isn’t paramount in order to attain ‘dox.’ Almost anyone with Internet access can partake in this dubious activity, though frowned upon by users of prominent and well-respected online communities. Via a piece from Wired:

On information sharing sites, it’s common to find people’s dox that have been made public, often as a form of harassment. Likely for that reason, there is a strong cultural taboo against doxing among the Reddit community that has made its way to the wider Internet.

On the other hand, some believe doxing is a revelation for the greater good. ‘Hacktivists’ have the potential to unveil unorthodox behavior, or publicize privately held information as a means of justified shaming. The Daily Dot presents the case of infamous hacker group, Anonymous, and its quest to take down a vastly unpopular hate group. The piece argues:

The situation raises a legitimate and complicated ethical question about whether doxing might, on occasion, have its place. The idea might seem repugnant for some; arguing that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander isn’t necessarily a good appeal to logic if the goal is to be above the tactics of the other side. However, opposing hate groups sometimes requires meeting them on their own terms, and in this case, Anonymous’s decision to expose members in the most dramatic of public fashion may have been an act of public service.

The bottom line? Doxing is not a black and white issue. No matter the perspective, it is a severe threat to the safety and security of not only classified information, but also lives. What are your views on this method of using data as a weapon?


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