Doxing or doxxing is the act of publicly revealing previously private personal information about an individual or organization, usually through the Internet. Methods employed to acquire such information include searching publicly available databases and social media websites (like Facebook), hacking, social engineering and, through websites such as Grabify, a site specialized in revealing IP addresses through a fake link. Doxing may be carried out for various reasons, including online shaming, extortion, and vigilante aid to law enforcement. It also may be associated with hacktivism.
"Doxing" is a neologism that has evolved over its brief history. It comes from a spelling alteration of the abbreviation "docs" (for "documents") and refers to "compiling and releasing a dossier of personal information on someone". Essentially, doxing is revealing and publicizing the records of an individual, which were previously private or difficult to obtain.
The term dox derives from the slang "dropping dox," which, according to Wired writer Mat Honan, was "an old-school revenge tactic that emerged from hacker culture in 1990s". Hackers operating outside the law in that era used the breach of an opponent's anonymity as a means to expose opponents to harassment or legal repercussions.
Consequently, doxing often comes with a negative connotation because it can be a vehicle for revenge via the violation of privacy.
Initial efforts around doxing were largely related to internet discussion forums on Usenet. One of the first documented doxing events was the publication of a "Blacklist of Net.Nazis and Sandlot Bullies" which listed names, email addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses of individuals the author objected to.
Doxware is a cryptovirology attack invented by Adam Young and further developed with Moti Yung that carries out doxing extortion via malware. It was first presented at West Point in 2003. The attack is rooted in game theory and was originally dubbed "non-zero-sum games and survivable malware".
The attack is summarized in the book Malicious Cryptography as follows:
The attack differs from the extortion attack in the following way. In the extortion attack, the victim is denied access to its own valuable information and has to pay to get it back, where in the attack that is presented here the victim retains access to the information but its disclosure is at the discretion of the computer virus.
Doxware is the converse of ransomware. In a ransomware attack (originally called cryptoviral extortion), the malware encrypts the victim's data and demands payment to provide the needed decryption key. In the doxware cryptovirology attack, the attacker or malware steals the victim's data and threatens to publish it unless a fee is paid.
Once people have been exposed through doxing, they may be targeted for harassment through methods such as harassment in-person, fake signups for mail and pizza deliveries, or through swatting (dispatching armed police to their house through spoofed tips).
A hacker may obtain an individual's dox without making the information public. A hacker may look for this information to extort or coerce a known or unknown target. A hacker may also harvest a victim's information to break into their Internet accounts or take over their social media accounts.
Victims may also be shown their details as proof that they have been doxed as a form of intimidation. The perpetrator may use this fear to gain power over victims in order to extort or coerce. Doxing is therefore a standard tactic of online harassment and has been used by people associated with 4chan and in the Gamergate and vaccine controversies.
The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2020)
Doxing of abortion providersEdit
In the United States, in the 1990s, anti-abortion activists secured abortion providers' personal information, such as home addresses, phone numbers, and photographs, and posted them as a hit list. The courts later ruled this to be an immediate incitement to violence. The site's legend explained: "Black font (working); Greyed-out Name (wounded); Strikethrough (fatality)." The website included blood-dripping graphics, celebrated providers' deaths and incited others to kill or injure the remaining providers on the list. Between 1993 and 2016, eight abortion providers were killed by anti-abortion activists, along with at least four police officers.
Human flesh search engineEdit
Starting in March 2006, the Chinese Internet phenomenon of the "Human flesh search engine"（人肉搜索）shares much in common with doxing. Specifically, it refers to distributed, sometimes deliberately crowdsourced searches for similar kinds of information through use of digital media.
The term "dox" entered mainstream public awareness through media attention attracted by Anonymous, the Internet-based group of hacktivists and pranksters who make frequent use of doxing, as well as related groups like AntiSec and LulzSec. The Washington Post has described the consequences for innocent people incorrectly accused of wrongdoing and doxed as "nightmarish".
In December 2011, Anonymous exposed detailed information of 7,000 law enforcement members in response to investigations into hacking activities.
In November 2014, Anonymous began releasing the identities of members of the Ku Klux Klan. This was concerning local Klan members in Ferguson, Missouri, making threats to shoot those protesting the shooting of Michael Brown. Anonymous also hijacked the group's Twitter page, resulting Klan members making veiled threats of violence against members of Anonymous. In November 2015, a major release of information about the KKK was planned. Discredited information was released prematurely, and Anonymous denied involvement. On 5 November 2015 (Guy Fawkes Night), Anonymous released an official list of supposed, but currently unverified, KKK members and sympathizers.
Following the 15 April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, vigilantes on Reddit wrongly identified a number of people as suspects. Notable among misidentified bombing suspects was Sunil Tripathi, a student reported missing before the bombings took place. A body reported to be Tripathi's was found in Rhode Island's Providence River on 25 April 2013, as reported by the Rhode Island Health Department. The cause of death was not immediately known, but authorities said they did not suspect foul play. The family later confirmed Tripathi's death was a result of suicide. Reddit general manager Erik Martin later issued an apology for this behavior, criticizing the "online witch hunts and dangerous speculation" that took place on the website.
Newsweek came under fire when writer Leah McGrath Goodman claimed to have revealed the identity of the anonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. Though the source of her sleuthing was primarily the public record, she was heavily criticized for her doxing by users on Reddit.
The Satoshi Nakamoto case brought doxing to greater attention, particularly on platforms such as Twitter, where users questioned the ethics of doxing in journalism. Many Twitter users condemned doxing in journalism, wherein they argued that the practice was seemingly acceptable for professional journalists but wrong for anyone else. Other users discussed the effect the popularization that the concept of doxing could have on journalism in the public interest, raising questions over journalism concerning public and private figures. Many users have argued that doxing in journalism blurs the line between revealing information in the public's interest and releasing information about an individual's private life against their wishes.
In September 2019, The Des Moines Register published racist tweets made by a 24-year-old Iowa man whose beer sign on ESPN College GameDay resulted in over $1 million in contributions to a children's hospital. Readers retaliated by sharing social media comments previously made by the reporter, Aaron Calvin, which contained racial slurs and condemnation of law enforcement. The newspaper later announced that Calvin was no longer an employee.
In March 2015, former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher Curt Schilling used doxing to identify several people responsible for "Twitter troll" posts with obscene, sexually explicit comments about his teenage daughter. One person was suspended from his community college, and another lost a part-time job with the New York Yankees.
In December 2015, Minneapolis city council member Alondra Cano used her Twitter account to publish private cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses of critics who wrote about her involvement in a Black Lives Matter rally.
In 2016, Fox Business news anchor Lou Dobbs revealed the address and phone number of Jessica Leeds, one of the women who accused American presidential candidate Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual advances; Dobbs later apologized.
In July 2016, WikiLeaks released 300,000 e-mails called the Erdoğan emails, initially thought to be damaging to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Included in the leak was Michael Best, who uploaded Turkish citizens' information databases that WikiLeaks promoted, who came forward to say that doing so was a mistake after the site where he uploaded the information took it down. The files were removed due to privacy concerns. They included spreadsheets of private, sensitive information of what appears to be every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey, including their home addresses and other private information, sometimes including their cellphone numbers.
U.S. Presidential Advisory Commission on Election IntegrityEdit
In July 2017, the United States' Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was established in May 2017 by U.S. President Donald Trump to investigate his controversial allegation of voter fraud, published a 112-page document of unredacted emails of public comment on its work, which included both critics and some supporters of the Commission. The Commission included the personal details of those critics, such as names, emails, phone numbers and home addresses. Most of the commenters who wrote to the White House expressed concern about publication of their personal information, with one person writing, "DO NOT RELEASE ANY OF MY VOTER DATA PERIOD." Despite this, that person's name and email address were published by the commission.
This act drew criticism from Theresa Lee, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, who stated, "This cavalier attitude toward the public's personal information is especially concerning given the commission's request for sensitive data on every registered voter in the country." The White House defended the personal information publication, noting that everyone was warned that might happen. However, former Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu stated that regardless of the legality, the White House has a moral obligation to protect sensitive data, saying, "Whether or not it's legal to disclose this personal information, it's clearly improper, and no responsible White House would do this."
Federal agencies often solicit and release public comments on proposed legislation. Regulations.gov, which is designated for public comments, includes a detailed set of guidelines explaining how to submit comments, what type of personal information is collected, and how that information may be used, stating, "Some agencies may require that you include personal information, such as your name and email address, on the comment form. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for instance, warns commenters to 'submit only information that you wish to make available publicly.'" Another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, tells commenters that "published comments include the commenter's last name and state/country as well as the entire text of the comment. Please do not include any sensitive or confidential information." However, The White House does not appear to have issued any such public guidelines or warnings before many of the emails were sent. Marc Lotter, Press Secretary to Mike Pence, stated, "These are public comments, similar to individuals appearing before commission to make comments and providing name before making comments. The Commission’s Federal Register notice asking for public comments and its website make clear that information 'including names and contact information' sent to this email address may be released."
Democratic U.S. House of Representatives internEdit
On 3 October 2018, Jackson Cosko, a House fellow for the Democratic party, was arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP). He allegedly posted private, identifying information of several Senators to Wikipedia. According to the USCP, the personal information of Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch was anonymously posted to Wikipedia the week before on Thursday 27 September 2018. The information included home addresses and phone numbers. All three lawmakers are with the Senate Judiciary Committee. The alleged doxing occurred during the hearing of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Cosko was initially charged with witness tampering, threats in interstate communications, unauthorized access of a government computer, identity theft, second degree burglary and unlawful entry. Cosko was fired after his arrest. He worked with Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif). Conviction of all six charges might have resulted in Cosko facing up to 20 years in prison. However, in June 2019, he was sentenced by Judge Thomas F. Hogan to four years in prison. An accomplice, Samantha DeForest Davis, was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and community service.
The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2020)
There are currently few legal remedies for the victims of doxing. In the United States, there are currently two federal laws that could potentially address the problem of doxing: the Interstate Communications Statute and the Interstate Stalking Statute. However, as one scholar has argued, "[t]hese statutes...are woefully inadequate to prevent doxing because their terms are underinclusive and they are rarely enforced". The Interstate Communications Statute, for example, "only criminalizes explicit threats to kidnap or injure a person". But in many instances of doxing, a doxer may never convey an explicit threat to kidnap or injure, but the victim could still have good reason to be terrified. And the Interstate Stalking Statute "is rarely enforced and it serves only as a hollow protection from online harassment". To illustrate, over three million people are stalked over the internet each year, yet only three people are charged under the Interstate Stalking Statute. Accordingly, "[t]his lack of federal enforcement means that the States must step in if doxing is to be reduced".
From March 1, 2020, the People’s Republic of China’s "Regulations on the Ecological Governance of Online Information Content" has been implemented, clarifying that users and producers of online information content services and platforms must not engage in online violence, doxing, deep forgery, data fraud, account manipulation and other Illegal activities.
As of 2021, it is a criminal offense in Hong Kong to dox, where doxing is defined as releasing private or non-public information on a person for the purposes of "threatening, intimidation, harassment or to cause psychological harm". Persons convicted under this statute are liable to imprisonment for up to 5 years, and a fine of HK$1,000,000 (US$128,591.72).
South Korea stands as one of few countries with a criminal statute that specifically addresses doxing. Article 49 of "Act on promotion of information and communications network utilization, and information protection" prohibits unlawful collection and dissemination of private information such as full name, birth date, address, likeliness, and any other information that is deemed sufficient to identify specific person(s) when viewed in summation, regardless of intent. In practice, however, due to the ambiguous nature of “unlawful collection” of private information in said statute, legal actions are often based upon article 44 from the same act, which prohibits insulting an individual with language derogatory or profane, and defamation of an individual through the dissemination of either misinformation or privileged factual information that may potentially damage an individual's reputation or honor (which often occurs in a doxing incident). It is important to note that this particular clause enforces harsher maximum sentences than a “traditional” defamation statute existing in the Korean criminal code and was originally enacted partially in response to the rise in celebrity suicides due to cyberbullying.
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- The dictionary definition of dox at Wiktionary