With today’s heated political climate, it is more important now than ever to protect yourself and your family from “online vigilantes.”
According to Wikipedia, the term doxing or doxxing (from dox, an abbreviation of documents) is the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting private or identifiable information (especially personally identifiable information) about an individual or organization. It is typically done with malicious intent.
The information published can be anything from home addresses to vehicle identification to social media accounts. Once individuals have been exposed through doxing, they may be targeted for online harassment. Doxing is becoming enough of a concern that the FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have issued warnings to law enforcement and public officials.
An example of this occurred some time ago after the fatal shooting of a homeless man by two LAPD police officers. Someone posted the officers’ private information online, including their home addresses, phone numbers and other personal details, including their children’s school locations.
American Military University (AMU) hosted a webinar on this topic as part of its Law Enforcement Webinar Series. Presenter James Deater, who spent more than 23 years as a Maryland State Trooper specializing in wiretaps and other forms of electronic investigation techniques, provided advice for how officers can protect themselves.
“Any officer could end up in a situation where you do everything right in accordance with agency policy, but the incident is captured on video and it looks wrong to the public. It happens all the time and as soon as your name is released to the public, you become a target,” said Deater. “You may not be able to stop it, but you can at least make it difficult for people to find your private information.”
Here are some recommendations Deater made about how to protect your personal information:
- Be aware of security and privacy settings on your accounts. Be selective about whom you share information with and limit how often you post about your location (especially if it’s your home).
- Routinely update computers, devices and software with the latest security fixes.
- Use antivirus software.
- Pay close attention to links and attachments in E-mail messages. Do not open anything which looks even remotely suspicious. If it’s legitimate, the person can always send it again.
- Add protection to your E-mail, social media and online bank accounts using two-factor authentication techniques.
- Choose unique strong passwords for each of your accounts and change your passwords regularly.
- Remember that anything you post on social media might be used against you. Once it’s online, you cannot take it back.
Consider removing your information from these sites: Google Earth (This free program allows individuals to access street views of locations. Deater recommends that officers submit a request that Google blur out your home, house number, vehicle, and any other identifying details shown on Google Earth); Spokeo®; Pipl; ZoomInfo®; Whitepages®; CheckPeople®; BeenVerified®; and Intelius®.
For those who have a Facebook account, it also makes sense to change your online name to something else if you are currently using your full name for your profile. Facebook has also recently added a number of new security features which help to protect your identity as well.
It can take a considerable amount of time and effort to properly submit these requests, especially if officers are also removing their spouses and children from such databases. However, the time it takes to remove this information is worth it to protect – or at least deter – a malicious attack on yourself and/or your family.
Leischen Kranick is the editor of In Public Safety, an American Military University sponsored Web site. She has spent six years writing articles on issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, and national security. To contact her, E-mail IPSauthors@apus.edu.