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doxware (extortionware)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Doxware, also known as extortionware, is a software used for an exploit in which a hacker accesses the target's sensitive data and threatens to publish it if the victim does not meet his demands, which are typically for money. The term comes from doxing, hacker-speak that means accessing and publishing private information about an individual or an organization.

Doxware is a variation on ransomware, malware used to access the target's data and then make it impossible for the victim to access that data himself.    Ransomware has become less profitable as more organizations have realized the importance of backing up their data to prevent loss and meet compliance and data governance requirements.

Doxing usually involves researching a target, accessing the target’s data and publishing it. In contrast, doxware uses the ransomware technique of broad-scale phishing attacks. However, doxware attackers take a further step, exfiltrating the data and exploring it to find potential doxing targets. As with ransomware, the hacker typically encrypts the victim’s data and demands payment to relinquish the key, in addition to refraining from broadcasting the sensitive data.

Although the terms doxware and extortionware are used synonymously, a distinction can be made between the two. As in conventional ransom, ransomware takes a hostage (data, in the case of the malware), while extortionware threatens harm of some sort if demands are unmet. In the case of doxware, the type of harm is specified: Exposure of personal data.

This was last updated in January 2017

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