Online doxxing in Africa

September 21, 2016

Is there a continent in this world where online harassment doesn’t exist?I bet none and Africa is one of them.Cases of online harassment have become so common such that victims no longer care and some of them what they do is to close their online accounts. A friend in Lusaka Zambia recently shared with how she suffered a cluster of mischief makers and misanthropes in one of the social media sites.In her 40s, the single mother of one quickly sought my advise on what exactly being “doxxed” means because after she googled the word, answers were varying and nothing was substantial enough to convince her that she was in any trouble. Being doxxed or doxxing is a reference for “documents” or “docs” and is the process of release of an individual’s personal and or identifiable information without their consent. In the Zambian lady case it included her place of birth, her ex boyfriend details, full legal name, tax identification details, home and work addresses and contact information including her son phone number.The doxxer as those who specialise in doxxing are known, normally publishes whatever information they’ve managed to turn up in their searches. Sometimes this even includes the names and details of their target’s family or close friends.As a tactic of harassment, doxxing serves two purposes which include intimidating the people targeted by invading and disrupting their expectations of privacy and also provides an avenue for the perpetuation of that person’s harassment by distributing information as a resource for future harassers to use. Apart from doxxing, there’s also what is commonly known as swatting which is basically the act of making a false report to the police with the intention of having a heavily armed response team sent to the target’s home.In Africa, there has been no such recorded cases and this means doxxing is the most common mode of online harassment in the continent. Sadly, the technical barrier to doxxing or swatting a person is low. A doxxer can acquire information on their target through a variety of legitimate public sources.

Other options used are what is called social engineering techniques.Swatting often just requires the name, phone number and address of the intended target and such information is hardly accessible in African countries.Back to my friend, I advised her that whenever she find herself at the receiving and of these forms of intimidation and abuse,chances are very high that she’s likely done nothing wrong. People are doxxed and swatted for all sorts of imagined wrongs, as banal as having an opinion on the internet.Sadly, the prevalence of doxxing is, in part, born of a perfect storm in personal data insecurity and easily abused systems. There are no perfect solutions for avoiding being doxxed except making yourself a more difficult target by adopting strong information security practices.While the simplest solution for online security is not having online data, this is impractical in the digital age because major parts of Africa’s social and professional lives are intermediated through web services. That said, there are a few precautions I asked her to take to increase the security of her data online.The first step is to Google herself just like you can do with Contador Harrison. One of the first steps in securing personal details is discovering to what extent they’re already out there and publicly available. If you find old accounts or web addresses you no longer want, there are options available about how you can have your account deleted from certain websites. I also advised her not to re-use passwords for multiple services.This can be difficult, as a new password for every service you use will be taxing to even the best of memories. The best, most complex passwords will be challenging to guess or to brute force, but also difficult to remember but thats how I do it myself.Its also important to turn on two factor authentication.Two-factor authentication requires that people trying to access your account have access to a password as well as a trusted device which is typically your mobile phone, in order to receive an authentication code before gaining access to your account. There are plenty of support networks for those targeted with online abuse that provides some excellent guides on online security, and how to cope with doxxing and swatting attacks.Keep it safe out there mate.

Contador Harrison