To defend against online attack, one must understand the meth-
ods used by attackers. There are as many kinds of online attacks as
there are malicious attackers, but attacks can be roughly categorized
by the content of the attack and the means by which the attack is
spread. These are the same categories that professionals use when an-
alyzing and defusing online reputation attacks.
Be aware: we describe a variety of methods through which rep-
utations are attacked, but this section is not a how-to manual for on-
line reputation attacks. Those who seek to attack others online will
find nothing that is not already available in the metaphoric dark al-
leyways of the Internet. Instead, we offer this section as a guide for
those who seek to understand online attacks or prevent their spread.
If you are reading this in the hope of learning how to attack others,
we kindly ask that you put the book down now before wasting any
more of your own time.
Types of Internet Attacks
Content Versus Method
An online attack can be broken down into two important compo-
nents: the content of the attack, and the method of its distribution.
The content of the attack is the “what”—what the attacker says
or does to make the victim look bad. All too often, the content relates
back to the classics: sex, lies, and videotape.
The method of distribution is what the Centers for Disease
Control would call the “vector, or the means by which the attack is
spread. Attackers can use e-mail, search engines, viral content, and
other means to spread their smears.
Of course, one attacker might utilize several different attacks, each
with its own content and distribution method. Or one particular
smear—a lie, or privacy breach, or manipulated photo—may be dis-
tributed by several methods. By examining the unique content and dis-
tribution methods of each attack, you can learn how to defeat them.
The Content of an Attack
The Simple Lie
The most common online attack is simple: the attacker spreads a
damaging lie about the victim. A flat lie of this type is considered to
be libel under many state laws. The subject of the lie can be anything
from a playground insult to an accusation of infidelity. Some classic
attacks are common online: attackers often claim that the victim is
sexually promiscuous, has committed an act of marital infidelity, or
has a sexually transmitted disease.
A purported dating advice website called
provides some useful statistics about the ways people attack each other.
The site claims to be a guide to help women avoid dating cheaters,
liars, and cads. Users of the site can post reviews of the men they have
dated. The reviewer remains anonymous, but the men are described by
full name, location, and sometimes photograph. Some of the reviews
Wild West 2.0124

Get Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Online Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.