Technology is a double edged sword. Never has it been so easy for anyone to stay connected with the world, wherever they are. Better still, it’s now possible to share your life online while maintaining strong anonymity, and hiding your location.
However, technology can make people more vulnerable to obsessive and harmful attention. By default, people often share their location as part of a status update, or embed it as metadata into images they share. An IP address, too, can reveal important and sensitive information about a person.
IP addresses, GPS coordinates in metadata of pictures or malicious plugins, for example, can all leave you vulnerable to an only averagely skilled adversarial.
Malware and hacking attempts can also become a high risk, as we simply reveal too much through our daily communications and the documents we keep on our computer—not to mention the cameras pointed at our heads, 24/7.
On the other hand, technology is a powerful tool to escape stalkers as well, particularly, to make it far harder for anyone to obtain personal information.
This is great news for those who, due to the nature of their work, or their “controversial” opinions, are at a higher risk of online harassment, which they fear could easily result in “doxing”.
Doxing (sometimes spelled doxxing) describes the process through which someone digs up personal information, such as phone numbers, addresses, license plate numbers, or employment details. Doxing is a form of online vigilantism that often comes with an expectation of mob justice.
A combination of a real name together with an approximate location often gives enough opportunity to find somebody on social media, reach out to their contacts, and, through social engineering, trick local bureaucracy and businesses into revealing more information.
The solution seems easy: use pseudonyms online and don’t connect them to a real identity.
The process, however, is often hard and there are multiple ways through which somebody can link your identity back to you, and through which sensitive information could be compromised.
For people who are unwilling or unable to use a pseudonym online, there is still a lot that can be done to protect your identity.
Protection is within reach even for those who do not consider themselves skilled with technology. Many solutions are free, and none are expensive. The free Tor Browser, for example, allows you to surf the web anonymously, and the free TAILS OS provides a holistic solution to online anonymity. For chatting, Signal is encrypted and makes it possible to privately call and text your contacts without fear of being intercepted. A VPN can also be considered although you should use a paid VPN and not a free one. Before deciding on a provider, you can opt for a VPN free trial before paying.