Doxxing for Good: Tracing your online footprint before hackers can
I have the privilege of working at The New York Times. Part of my job includes training journalists on how they can better protect themselves and their information on an evolving internet landscape. One of the more prominent threats for a journalist is doxxing (or doxing) where their personal information is published maliciously online with the intent of discrediting, embarrassing, and threatening them. Since The Times has been frequently targeted as the “enemy of the people” along with several other large scale media organizations this threat is increasing on the minds of our reporters, especially when a high profile story is coming to press.
My coworker, Neena Kapur, and I worked together to develop a training that assists Times employees with assessing their digital footprint online using resources that a doxxer or a hacker would use to gather information on that target. We then walk through the steps to reduce and limit this information through a mixture of opting-out, configuring privacy settings, and highlighting basic security features to consider for online accounts. After several successful sessions, we brought it on the road and presented a version for the IRE (Investigative Reporter & Editors) CAR conference. Along with our talk, we created a public tip sheet for scrubbing your digital footprint that can be viewed below.
This sheet follows three areas that are the primary resources for doxxers: search engines, people search sites, and social media. We find that reducing your information among these three categories makes it substantially harder for those attempting to target you.
A couple of tips before getting started:
I don’t recommend tackling all the information in one sitting. Trying to do it all at once can become overwhelming quickly. Instead, I suggest breaking it up into manageable chunks and spreading out the process over a couple of weeks.
This process is great to tackle in a group setting. Invites some friends over, pour a glass of wine (or hot tea) and start the process together. I find it helps reduce the stress that can come with this process.
Make time in 6-12 months to do this again. Unfortunately, this is not a one time process. Any time there is a change that would create a new public record on you, it’s likely for your information to show up again. This usually happens when you change your name, move, or buy a house. I recommend scheduling a “spring cleaning” once a year to reassess your footprint. Don’t worry; It won’t be as time-consuming as the first time.
One of our CAR conference attendees also wrote a great article based on this content for Axios, "What the internet knows about you." Check it out here.