It took barely 30 minutes for a TikToker to doxx me

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In 30 minutes or less, TikToker and Chicago-based server Kristen Sotakoun can probably find your date of birth. She’s no cybersecurity expert, despite what some of her followers suspect, but she’s found a hobby in what she calls “consensual doxxing.”

“My first thing is to entertain. My second thing is to show you cracks in your social media, which was the totally accidental thing that I became on TikTok,” Sotakoun, who goes by @notkahnjuniorsaid.

It’s not quite doxxing, which generally refers to making private information publicly available with malicious intent. Instead, it’s known in the cybersecurity field as open source intelligence, or OSINT. People unknowingly lay out private details about their lives like a breadcrumb across social media platforms that, when put together, paint a picture of their age, family, embarrassing childhood memories and Moreover. In malicious cases, hackers collect information based on what you or your loved ones have posted on the web to gain access to your accounts, commit fraud, or even socially trick a user into falling for a scam.

Sotakoun is content above all to find the date of birth of an anonymous volunteer. She has no malicious intent or interest in a career in security, she said she just enjoys solving logic puzzles. Before TikTok, this consisted of returning home from a friend’s birthday dinner at Medieval Times to find out about their “knight’s” day job. Sotakoun eventually went viral for her skills.

So, to show me his process, I let Sotakoun “consensually doxx” me. She found my Twitter pretty quickly, but because I keep it pretty locked down, it wasn’t very helpful. However, the information in the author’s biographies of my previous jobs helped her understand where I went to college.

My name and where I studied led her to my Facebook account, another profile that didn’t reveal much. It did, however, lead her to my sister, who had commented on my cover photo nine years ago. She figured out it was my sister because we shared a last name, and we’re listed as sisters on her Facebook. This is important to note because I don’t really share a last name with most of my other siblings, which could have been an added hurdle.

My sister and I have pretty common names, so Sotakoun also found my mother-in-law on my sister’s profile. Researching my mother-in-law’s much more unique name on Instagram helped direct Sotakoun to mine and my sister’s Instagram accounts, as opposed to one of the many other Malones online.

However, my Instagram account is private. So it was my sister’s Instagram account – which she took down “private” for a Wawa gift that eventually got her a t-shirt – with years-old birthday messages that led Sotakoun to the day of my birth. It took a ton of scrolling, and to correct the fact that a birthday post could arrive a day late or early, Sotakoun relied on the fact that my sister shared once my birthday coincided with World Penguin Day, April 25.

Then, to find the year, she cross-referenced the year I started college, which was 2016 according to my LinkedIn public, with information in my high school newspaper. My senior year of high school, I won a seniors-only scholarship, Sotakoun found out, revealing that I graduated from high school in 2016. From there, she recounted 18 and told me that I was born on April 25, 1998. She was right.

“My goal is always to find contextual clues or find people who care less about their online presence than you do,” Sotakoun said.

According to Matt Edmondson, an OSINT instructor at cybersecurity training organization SANS Institute, many people will push back against the idea that having personal information online is harmful. While there are obvious repercussions to having your social security number online, people may wonder what the harm is in seemingly insignificant information like having your pet’s name readily available on social media. But if it’s also the answer to a security question, an attacker might be able to use it to gain access to your Twitter account or email.

In my case, I have always carefully tailored my digital footprint to keep my information hidden. My accounts are private and I don’t share much personal information. Still, Sotakoun’s OSINT methods have found something to work with.

Facebook and Instagram are Sotakoun’s biggest help in finding information, but she said she also used Twitter and even Venmo to confirm relationships. It specifically avoids resources such as databases of records that could easily yield information.

That means there’s still a lot of data about each of us that Sotakoun isn’t looking for. Especially if you’re in the United States, data such as your date of birth, home address and more are likely already available in one form or another, according to Steven Harris, an OSINT specialist who teaches at WITHOUT.

“Once the data is available, it’s very difficult to take it back,” Harris said. “What protects people is not that the information is securely locked down, it’s that most people don’t have the knowledge or the inclination to go and find out.”

There are simple things you can do to prevent attackers from using these details against you. Complex passwords and multi-factor authentication make it harder for unauthorized users to access your account, even if they know the answers to your security questions.

It gets a bit more complicated, however, when we think about how much our friends and family post for us. In fact, Sotakoun says he’s noticed that even if a person takes many steps to hide themselves online, the lack of control over their social circle can help them find out their date of birth.

“You have virtually no control over your immediate social circle, or even your slightly extended social circle and how they present themselves online,” she said.

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