Mar 8, 2022

What is doxxing? How to keep your child safe online

Qustodio Team

Qustodio Team

Experts in digital safety

How to prevent doxxing
December 28th, 2017, Wichita. A shooting and hostage situation is reported to dispatchers at the local police department, taking place at the house of Andrew Finch. Police officers surround the Finch residence. When Andrew steps out to see what is happening, he is shot dead. In the hours following, it became clear that there was no active shooter – police were acting on a false report, called in by a man named Tyler Barriss, following an online argument on popular video game, Call of Duty: WWII.  

The relatively recent trend in online doxxing and other related cyber security attacks allow us to connect the dots between the shooting and the online argument: Andrew Finch was a victim of a practice called “swatting”, in which a serious emergency situation is reported to the police, in the hopes of a SWAT team being dispatched to the address provided. His address had been given out by one of the men involved in the argument – Finch hadn’t even been playing Call of Duty that day, nor did he know the individuals involved.

Unfortunately, with the passing of time, cyberattacks like swatting and doxxing have begun to affect individuals and families more frequently. Security attacks are now so much more than a password being breached: doxxing, and other related types of cyberattack which maliciously target individuals, with potentially psychologically damaging effects, are becoming commonplace, particularly in the live streaming and gaming community. We break down what doxxing is, and other related types of cyberattack, to help keep your family aware and safe as they game and livestream online.

What is doxxing?

Doxxing, sometimes written as “doxing”, refers to the release of personal information online. The hacker or individual uses various methods, such as searching public databases or social media channels to get hold of personal details, like name, address, or other identifying information, so others may contact and later harass the person whose details have been revealed. 

Doxxing has often been associated with taking revenge – it’s a tactic used by some online vigilantes to reveal personal information of criminals, to expose people who have controversial opinions, or to attack someone for their personal beliefs. In some cases, doxxing is used as a form of “hacktivism”, where perpetrators use cyber attacks in order to promote their own political agenda or attempt to bring about some form of social change. For example, one of the first large-scale doxxing events was the publication of a list of alleged Net-Nazis. with their email addresses, phone numbers, and home addresses on display. Nowadays, celebrities, journalists, and even regular people such as doctors have been doxxed, in some cases with serious consequences, including online mobbing and death threats.

Is it illegal to doxx someone?

Much of the information which is used in order to doxx a victim is often found online, or through public databases, meaning that as long as it has been obtained legally, releasing public information isn’t a crime. However, in addition to potentially violating terms and conditions of websites and social media platforms, which often prohibit the posting of another person’s personal information, doxxers can run on the wrong side of laws relating to harassment, stalking, and intimidation. In short, someone can be arrested and charged for activity surrounding doxxing, even though doxxing itself is not illegal. 

Types of doxxing that kids should know about

Social media doxxing

While social media can be a positive, creative outlet, it is also frequently being used as a space to troll, bully, harass, or intimidate others. It also plays a pivotal role in “cancel culture”, or “call-out culture”, where celebrities or influencers are drawn into the spotlight for their offensive actions or words, and a backlash is sparked online. This “cancel culture” has now trickled down to those not in the public eye: with calls for individuals to lose their jobs, or the release of their public information, following an action that has caused offense or that others believe the person should be held accountable for. 

Through social media, doxxers can collect names, addresses, places the person has been, their place of work, and the names of family members and friends, some of which are frequently used to provide answers to security questions. This leaves the person’s social media accounts vulnerable, and if the information is posted elsewhere online, can incite others to bring online harassment offline, sometimes taking it into the real world.

what is doxxing and how to prevent it

Swatting

The practice of swatting refers to reporting a serious emergency in an attempt to have the emergency services deployed to another person’s address. The term “swatting” comes from the association with American SWAT units, who are called out only to high-risk situations. 

Swatting attacks are often brought against popular streamers, YouTubers, podcasters, and gamers. In just the first two months of 2022, podcaster Tim Pool, host of Timcast, was swatted five separate times, both at his recording studio and at his home. In early February 2022, Hearthstone streamer Alexandra Macpherson, aka Alliestrasza, was swatted during a livestream, with viewers witnessing heavily armed police officers entering the room she was recording from. 

There are many reports that children have been involved in swatting – either on the receiving end, or through making the initial call themselves. In 2013, police were sent to movie star Ashton Kutcher’s home, and a 12-year-old boy in California admitted to having made the call – reporting that individuals were inside Kutcher’s home with explosives. 

In 2019, after winning the Fortnite World Cup Finals, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf was swatted while streaming live on Twitch. More recently, in 2020, an unnamed minor from the UK was involved in the swatting of a 60-year-old man in Tennessee, which was organized in an attempt for the man to give up his Twitter handle.   

Pizza bombing

As a form of doxxing, pizza bombing may either refer to a hacker obtaining someone’s address and credit card information, or simply just an address, and ordering hundreds or thousands of dollars of pizza to be sent to their address. This practice is particularly common between live streamers, where the effects of the pizza bombing can be seen in real time. When compared to other forms of doxxing, pizza bombing could be seen as more of a trivial “prank”, but ending up thousands of dollars out of pocket for takeout food is neither humorous nor trivial for the individuals or families involved. The 60-year-old man from Tennessee who suffered a heart attack while being swatted was also subject to pizza bombing, alongside other tactics such as harassing phone calls and text messages as a form of intimidation.

How to protect your kids from doxxing

1. Keep social media private

In a time where cyberbullying and cyber attacks are becoming more prevalent, it’s generally a good idea for people of all ages to keep social media accounts private. In addition to a private profile, keep the bare minimum of information on social accounts – details that reveal where your child goes to school, the places they frequently go, or family members, should be kept off their pages. In addition, turn off location tracking on any social media apps, or chat applications such as Messenger or WhatsApp

 

2. Never give out personal information online, especially during a game or livestream

It’s natural that when kids play games online, they connect with people all around the world, who they can even form friendships with. Once a connection is formed, it’s a lot easier for your child to be lulled into a false sense of security, where they’re more likely to reveal personal information – as they would with any friend! Not all online friendships are bad, but it’s important to talk to your child about the importance of never revealing any personal information online, such as their address, full name, names of family and friends, and other identifying information. They have no way of knowing who’s on the other side of the screen, or who else could be listening. 

 

3. Use a parental control tool

To ensure your kids are using age-appropriate apps, and to keep them off potentially dangerous websites, use a cross-platform parental control tool like Qustodio to help keep all their devices safe. With parental control tools, you can limit the apps they have access to, understand the type of content they like engaging with, and set limits on their screen time to help them engage in healthier digital habits. 

 

4. Give them tools to manage negative emotions

Doxxing and related cyber attacks such as swatting are often carried out in a moment of anger or because the individual feels the need to take “revenge”. It can be difficult for children and teenagers to regulate their emotions, so teaching them forms of anger management can be a way to offer them valuable coping skills

  • Teach them to recognize what anger feels like when it surges, so they are able to regulate their emotions before the anger comes to a head. How does their body feel when they’re getting angry? Signs such as a flushed face, clenched fists, or their heart beating faster are all ways they can start to see their anger affect them physically, and react accordingly, such as by breathing deeply or taking a time out. 
  • Allow them to take their own time outs. If your child or teen is getting angry, engaging further in an argument or conversation could make their feelings even more intense. Allow them to take a quick break, where they can reflect and collect their thoughts together. This is a good strategy for everyone in the household – if you recognize an argument is escalating, take a break and come back to the discussion. 
  • Guide them to offline activities or behaviors that help regulate stress or anxiety. What helps calm your child down? Drawing, going for a run, or reading a book? If they don’t have an existing strategy that helps calm them down, work together to find one, so they can turn to it when they feel anger or frustration. 

 

5. Keep the conversation going about cyber security

Be open and honest with your kids about the risks and dangers of social media and online gaming. Both have their potential benefits, but children also need to be aware of problems they could come across. Encourage them to come to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable online, either on social media, or during a live stream. It’s important to remember that kids are learning how to navigate the online world – supporting them instead of shaming them for doing something “wrong” will help them feel they can talk to you openly about things that have happened to them online. 

How can Qustodio help protect your family?

Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Our parental control tools ensure they don't access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.