Technology Stalking

Excerpt from ‘STALKING Prevent Protect Progress: A training program for service providers’.

Technology stalking is the use of information and communications technology to stalk a person or group of persons. The behaviour includes the transmission of threats, identity theft, false accusation, monitoring, soliciting minors for sexual purposes, and the gathering of information for harassment purposes.  Technology stalking can be perpetrated by use of the internet, mobile phones, cameras and other recording devices, faxes, spyware and global positioning system (GPS) devices.

 

The use of technology is not what makes a person vulnerable to becoming a stalking victim. Research indicates the majority of individuals who are stalked are stalked by someone they know, and usually this person is a current or former intimate partner. Most often, an individual is not targeted via the technology, but technology is used by the stalker as part of the pattern of intimidation and harassment. Technology merely facilitates behaviours that stalkers have always engaged in.

 

Aspects of Technology Stalking

Gathering information for offline stalking

The Internet has brought a world of information to our fingertips. With a few typed worlds and a click of the mouse we can find virtually anything we want to. As amazing as this technology is and the positive effect it has on our society, this also comes at a price as our privacy dwindles. Technology stalking can sometimes be the starting point for further offline stalking once a victim has been targeted. The information found online such as your address, phone number, club membership, place of employment, favourite park, etc. can be used against you at the hands of a technology stalker.

 

Threats

Threats of violence, retribution, public humiliation, etc. are a common part of traditional stalking. This is relatively dangerous for the stalker as well, because threatening phone calls in some circumstances can be traced, letters can be fingerprinted and face-to-face threats can be witnessed or recorded. Technology stalkers can threaten with far more impunity than traditional stalkers, due to the anonymous nature of the Internet and difficulty for law enforcement to find it and track down technology stalkers.

 

Impersonation

If a technology stalker has access to the victim’s accounts and passwords, they can easily impersonate them on message forums, emails, blogs, etc. They may also use this access to monitor the victim, for example, whom are they communicating with via email? What is their schedule? Where are they meeting friends? They may then follow or survey the victim with this information. If they do not have access to the victim’s accounts, they may create accounts that can confuse their friends and family and trick them into thinking they are communicating with the victim. For example, if someone has the username “Indiana123,” a technology stalker would create the account “lndiana123,” (Using a lower case “L” in place of the uppercase “i”) which, at a quick first glance, would appear to be the same as the victim’s username. Using this, the stalker could impersonate their victim.

 

Flaming

Flaming is known as posting defamatory or derogatory statements about someone in a public online place. Technology stalkers use this to defame the victim in a public forum. Once comments or pictures have been posted online, it can be almost impossible to have them removed, or prevent them from being spread all over the world.

 

Additionally, there are multiple websites devoted to embarrassing people. A person can post embarrassing stories, pictures, movies, etc. and these sites will propagate them across the internet ensuring a wide audience.

 

Identity theft

With access to the details some people frequently post online, it is possible for a technology stalker to gather enough information to steal the identity of an individual. This can include small things like opening new online accounts in the victim’s name all the way to accessing bank accounts, obtaining copies of birth certificates, ordering credit cards, etc.

 

Encouraging others to harass the victim

The anonymous nature of the internet will often bring out the dark side of human nature. There are entire websites dedicated to assisting people in exacting “revenge” and other stalking type activities. These can include a group organising a mail bombing campaign, several people working together to track down a person’s details,  or even groups working to watch the movements of a victim.

 

It is also possible to enlist strangers to assist with little or no prompting. Just try posting a phone number on a popular forum and ask people to call it at all hours and you will find the phone won’t stop ringing for some time.

 

Another common method used is that the stalker posts the victim’s phone number, email address or physical address along with an illicit “adult” classified message online. The victim will then receive countless phone calls, emails or even, potentially, visitors to their home, from complete strangers that are unknowingly participating in the stalking.

 

Harassing friends of the victim

Many technology stalkers will use various means to contact the friends and/or family of their intended victim. This happens especially when the victim is not responding to the stalker’s actions. The stalker can use any of the same measures to harass the victim’s associates as they would use to harass the victim. They do this with the hopes that it will incite a response from the victim.

 

Spyware/Viruses

Viruses and spyware can be very dangerous. Both tend to target the same thing: the victim’s private details, their photos, important documents, and in some cases, even their computer system. Spyware is form of malicious software designed to penetrate a computer system without the owner’s informed consent. It can be installed remotely or by direct access to a computer and is extremely difficult to detect. The functions of spyware extend well beyond the monitoring of a person’s computer. It tracks everything one does on their computer. Spyware programs can collect various types of personal information such as internet sites visited and passwords used. It can also interfere with user control of the computer such as installing additional software and redirecting web browser activity. It may also change computer settings resulting in slow connection speeds and different home pages. The information gathered by spyware programs is sent away, either to the technology stalker directly, or someone else that may use the information illegally. Viruses, on the other hand, are designed to destroy the information, preventing the victim from using it themselves.

 

 

Tools of a Technology Stalker

The prevention of technology stalking is focused on the offender, and what steps can be implemented to reduce risk to the victim. Detailed below are the common tools used by individuals online that can also be abused by stalkers. Also outlined are steps that can be taken to reduce risk to the victim of a technology stalker. These steps are similar to having a home security system. They are not fail-safe, but they make you a much harder target for a technology stalker, making it more attractive to find someone else. However, of course, a determined stalker will not look elsewhere.

 

Do not let your guard down simply because you do not think you have a reason to worry about anyone stalking you. What you put online stays online forever. Even if you cannot see it, there are cached versions of websites that can always be found. What you put online today may be misused by someone in the future. If you want to be particularly active online, consider using a pen name – not only for yourself, but also for your family members.

 

However, there is no reason to be paranoid. It is better to be armed with the proper information to keep yourself safe. Do not think that simply ignoring the internet will mean that you are safe. Others will post information about you and you need to be aware of it. Not only that, the internet is a fantastic resource that allows you to keep up with the latest technological advancements.

 

It is also important to remember that you should not feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed, if you have made mistakes and left yourself vulnerable. Everyone has. The important factor is that you fix the mistakes, learn from them and move on.

 

 

Social Networking Websites (i.e. Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Bebo, Habbo, etc.)

What are they?

Two-thirds of the global internet population maintains online profiles within these social networking sites. These sites are virtual combinations of a diary, photo album, dating advertisement and community centres. Frequently, people use these profiles to share such information as: their marital status, their full name, schools they attend/have attended, workplaces, phone numbers, their day to day activities, photos of themselves and their family members, as well as a plethora of other seemingly trivial pieces of personal information.

 

What are the risks?

For a technology stalker, these seemingly innocuous details can be combined to provide a detailed description of a person’s life, movements and interests. As the majority of stalking victims are targeted by someone that they know, this information can gathered by the offender with complete anonymity and could form the starting point of further online, and offline, stalking.

 

If the stalker is seeking to interact with his/her victim online, as opposed to just watching and gathering information, they too can create these social networking profiles. Once they have their own profile, they can send harassing messages to their victim and post abusive comments or photos in public places that can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Don’t be afraid of the “Block” or “Ignore” features online. They were created so that you can keep out unwanted and unwarranted interactions with other users. Keep in mind that someone can contact you again if they create a new username. It is not fail-safe, but it can certainly help.

o        Never use easy to guess secret questions when setting up online accounts. “Mother’s Maiden Name” or “Dog’s name” are far too easy for a potential stalker to work out. Use a secure password that is a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols and change your password often.

o        Social media websites have many built-in privacy settings. Become familiar with use of these settings and set as much information as possible to “private.” Only allow your trusted friends and family to view private information.

o        Do not add someone as a friend unless you really do know them. It is a common tactic that stalkers will create profiles that are not genuine, add their victim as a “friend” and then monitor and stalk them with anonymity.

 

Instant messaging/Chat rooms

What is it?

More common in the years before social networking, yet still quite a draw to the internet, instant messaging and chat rooms were the widespread medium for connecting with someone online. It is, essentially, having a conversation with someone in real time, but using the internet instead of a telephone or face-to-face meeting. Instant message also includes the ‘away/status’ message feature that many users use to notify friends and colleagues of where they are when they are away from their computer. If they provide too detailed information it can alert the stalker of their location.

 

What are the risks?

This can easily be abused. Although most instant messaging programs allow users to block other users that are abusing them, the technology stalker can simply create another account and, within minutes, be right back to harassing their victim.

 

Additionally, if the stalker has access to the victim’s username and password, it is possible for the stalker to virtually eavesdrop on all conversations the victim has online, past and present.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Don’t be afraid of the “Block” or “Ignore” features online. They were created so that you can keep out unwanted and unwarranted interactions with other users. Keep in mind that someone can contact you again if they create a new username. It is not fail-safe, but it can certainly help.

o        Only add people you know to your contact list and block all other incoming friend requests.  

 

Message boards/Forums

What is it?

A message board is an online discussion site and the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board. Information is organised into topics and then threads within those topics. Each thread is a continuing discussion that anyone registered on the message board can join in and contribute too.

 

What are the risks?

Due to the ongoing nature of the communication on message boards, small snippets of information can build up to provide a comprehensive picture of your personal life. Not only can a stalker read your comments, they are able to interact with you either as themselves, or anonymously.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Although it can be tempting to get into a heated online argument with that annoying person on a forum, making enemies online is not a good idea.
 

o        If you are going to use blogs, create websites or post on message boards, be very selective of information that you share. Consider posting with complete anonymity or creating a false name to use.

 

Blogging

What is it?

For many years there have been a variety of platforms for people to create virtual diaries. It was originally intended as a place for people to post their feelings/day to day movements, as in a usual diary, but to also share this information with their friends and family members. Over time, this became known as blogging and became more of an outlet for social activity and less of a personal diary as blogging became a robust mix of personal and professional blogs.

 

What are the risks?

Although professional bloggers have the goal of sharing news and information, those new to blogging still tend view it as a public diary. Thus, they post their every day actions for anyone to anonymously read. Obviously, this can be abused in the hands of a stalker.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        If you are going to use blogs, create websites or post on message boards, be very selective of information that you share. Consider posting with complete anonymity or creating a false name to use.

o        If you are posting information in a blog with your real name attached, do not post information that is intended to cause anger in someone else.

 

Microblogging

What is it?

A new online trend is that of microblogging. There are a variety of programs for this type of communication, by the most popular (by far) is Twitter. Twitter allows users to share very short responses to the question: “What are you doing?” Most posts on Twitter fall under the ‘daily chatter’ category where people talk about their daily routine or what they are currently doing.  Another user category, however ‘information seeker’ where follows other users regularly but rarely posts themselves.

What are the risks?

In regards to stalking, this can be a hugely dangerous venture if information of a personal and identifying nature is posted. A stalker can view the “tweets” (short updates) of anyone, with complete anonymity. This can be used to track someone’s movements each and every day.

 

 A recent survey of 1,724 Britons by Yasni.co.uk, a search engine for tracking down people, found that 54 per cent of respondents had used networks such as Twitter to peer in on an ex's life. For some of the respondents, harvesting intelligence became addictive, with one-quarter saying they regularly “check up on” exes.

It's not just a one-off, they're regularly monitoring,” said Andy Barr, Yasni's marketing manager.

According to the survey, the spy syndrome affects women more than men:

         46% of men 62% of women said they'd ‘scoped out’ an ex partner

         57% of the female respondents said their curiosity was good-natured

         21% admitted the surveillance was a ‘jealous tick’

         9% of all respondents were bold about their snooping, saying they did it because they knew they could not be caught

How can I protect myself?

o        Be aware of the information you are posting. Small, trivial details in a single post may not be a concern, but over time these details can add up to paint a picture a stalker could use. Regularly posting about your movements can also be detrimental. A Tweet about how you are heading to the beach for the day is letting everyone know your house is empty. Tweets should not contain information that is useful to a stalker.

 

o        It is important to note that technology itself is not a problem. Rather, we need to be thoughtful about how we interact with it.

 

Email

What is it?

Email is used as a primary form of communication for most people these days.  Email addresses are essentially virtual postal addresses. Users can send and receive messages online at high speeds. In fact, many people have more than one email account to manage their contacts. Emails are appreciated because they are immediate, easy to use and free of charge.

 

What are the risks?

Email can easily be abused by stalkers for those same reasons. It gives them immediate, free and easy access to their victims. Stalkers use emails to harass and threaten their victims. As with other means of harassing their victims, email accounts are easy to set up. So even if the victim blocks one email address, the predator can create another email and be back to causing damage almost immediately.

 

Additionally, emails can be used to “mail bomb” their victim, which is to send a large volume of emails or a few emails with very large attachments. These tie up the victim’s email clients, not allowing them to send or receive communications with anyone else.

 

Stalkers can also use their victim’s email addresses to spend spam (large amounts of unwanted, generally advertising related, email), or viruses and spyware. Spam is generally regarded as just annoying and clutters the victim’s email inbox.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Do not keep emails that contain usernames and passwords to various websites, applications and programs.

 

o        Don’t be afraid of the “Block” or “Ignore” features online. They were created so that you can keep out unwanted and unwarranted interactions with other users. Keep in mind that someone can contact you again if they create a new username. It is not fail-safe, but it can certainly help.

o        Maintain multiple email addresses with multiple passwords. It is recommended that you have at least three email addresses.

·         One email address that you give only to family members and secure websites (for example: government departments and banks). Additionally, this email address should have a very secure password (see below) that you do not use anywhere else.

·         The second email address would be the one that you give to your friends and family members. This email address can be used to sign up for various things that you are sure will keep your information safe and private. Always use a secure password and, ideally, do not use the password anywhere else.

·         The third email address is used to sign up for things that you are worried may not keep your information private or might send you mass amounts of spam advertising. The password should again be secure, but most importantly, it should be unique and nothing like your other passwords.

·         There are many providers that offer free email addresses (including Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail). Use these providers and avoid using your internet service provider (ISP).

o        If you use the email provided by your ISP and a stalker gets these detail, it is much harder to avoid them. Free email addresses can be deleted and created far easier than those provided by ISPs.

o        If the stalker can get enough of your details, along with the email address provided by your internet service provider, they can call your provider and impersonate you. You can find yourself with a loss of access to your internet, excessive fees, or a very large bill.                       .
 

o        Never use your real name, or part thereof, as your online screen name or email address. Do not use anything that can be used to identify you. Use an ambiguous username – a word that does not give reference to your gender, interests, location or name. The more information you can keep from a potential stalker, the better.

·         For example, let’s look at two usernames: “RachelSmith2795” and “AlphabetSoup.” A stalker can quickly determine by the username that “RachelSmith2795” is probably a woman named Rachel Smith that lives in Bathurst NSW (postcode 2795). However, what information can they gather immediately about the username “AlphabetSoup?” Essentially nothing. This makes RachelSmith2795 a much better target.

 

o        Never use business email accounts for personal use. This can reveal your full name, your employer’s name and business address. Additionally, it can be very hard to convince employers to change your email address in the future, meaning that a stalker has direct access to you.

 

o        When you receive an email from someone you’ve never heard of, do not open any attachments. If you are not 100% sure that the attachment is safe, and from a trusted source, do not open it. It may be a virus or spyware.                                                      .
 

o        Be careful of the information you put in your signature. Feel free to put quotes that you like, but avoid putting your full name, phone number or address in your signature. This information is generally not necessary for private emails. In your signatures at your place of employment, if there is no standard required by the employer, keep the information as minimal as possible while still ensuring a professional image.                                                   .

o        Be suspicious of emails that ask for your identifying information or passwords. This is one tactic used in “phishing” (pronounced “fishing”), which is the act of gathering information about someone to use it against them (either stalking or identity theft).

o        Do not click links in emails that appear to have come from your bank, credit card company, etc. Either type in the web address yourself or call the company to confirm the email. This is another tactic used in phishing. Although not always used for stalking, it is still important to realise that anyone can set up a website and email address that can look official and trick you into giving them your details (for example: bank account username and passwords, credit card details, etc.)

 

o        Use secure passwords and change them often.

 

Online history

What is it?

Every computer, regardless of the operating system or browser that an individual uses, keeps a log of everything the user does while on the internet. This information is stored to help the user manage their online experience by storing common usernames, internet searches, passwords, favourite websites, etc.

 

What are the risks?

If a stalker can access the victim’s computer, it is a very simple process to view the victim’s actions online, especially if the victim is naïve and does not know how to clear the information from the computer. This can be an incredible resource for the stalker, allowing them to know everything that the victim does online.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        When you are done using the internet, ensure you have cleared the browsing history, cache and cookies from the computer. Particularly if you are using someone else’s computer or a computer at an internet café.

 

o        Use a more secure browser than Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. These browsers have advanced privacy settings and include “Private Browsing” options that do not save your history at all.

 

Keylogging

What is it?

Keylogging is the tracking of the victim’s movements on their computer. It can be a program or a physical device attached to the computer. Either way, it will record every key stroke on the victim’s computer.  There are also similar programs that detect and record every click, in a similar manner.

 

Some examples include: http://www.eblaster.com/and http://www.snoopstick.com/.

 

Both of these programs include keystroke logging as part of the spyware.

 

What are the risks?

Keylogging gives the stalker direct access to the victim’s usernames and passwords –for everything they do on the computer, including social media, banking, emailing, etc. Once these usernames and passwords have been captured, the stalker is capable of accessing many more avenues of stalking, including identity theft, impersonation and defamation.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Familiarise yourself with your computer. Become familiar with what is plugged into the computer and what purpose it serves.

 

o        Know which programs are running on your computer. Find and remove suspicious programs or source someone you trust that can. Typically, spyware programs run in stealth mode and are extremely difficult to detect. The average user will not be able to detect or remove it.

 

o        Always have up-to-date and functional anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programs.
If necessary, get an IT professional to install an internet security suite. 

 

Fax machines

What are they?

Fax (short for facsimile) messages send copies of printed material by way of a telephone network.

 

What are the risks?

Fax machines print the sender’s name and fax number on the top of every page which may provide location details to a stalker. For example, a US woman hiding in a shelter from her abusive partner faxed papers to her attorney who re-faxed them to his attorney who forwarded them to the partner.  No-one thought to cut off the original fax header, which resulted in the woman having to move from the shelter.

How can I protect myself?

o        Look for a fax machine that only prints the date and/or page number

o        If necessary use a public fax machine in another location.

 

 

Webcams           

What are they?

Modern technology has produced a variety of inexpensive, commercially available video cameras, as small as a ten cent piece. To enhance the online communication experience, a lot of internet users have small video cameras, also known as “web cams,” which allow them to have more interactive conversations. It is fantastic for friends and family to keep in touch when they live far away from each other, as well as a great way for people to “meet” virtually despite the distances between them.

 

What are the risks?

These cameras can be used to spy on anyone, remotely. If the victim uses a webcam online, stalkers can remotely access this webcam without the victim’s knowledge. It should be noted that this process is difficult, and the stalker would need advanced computer skills to accomplish webcam stalking. Images and video would be transmitted via the internet and the stalker could access the feed via their computer or another computer.

 

Even if the victim does not have a web cam, a determined stalker with access to the victim’s house can set up a webcam that transmits back to the stalker’s computer in just a few minutes.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Use a unique username for your webcam and only share this with people you trust.

 

o        Turn off and unplug your webcam when you are not using it. If your camera is built-in (available in some laptops) watch to ensure the “Camera Active” light is not lit up at any time you are not using the camera yourself. Alternatively, place a ‘post-it’ note or piece of opaque tape over the camera when not in use.

 

o        Familiarise yourself with your computer hardware and where it is located. If something new appears, remove it and do what you can to figure out what it is. IT professionals can help with this.

 

Usernames and Passwords

What are they?

For nearly everything that someone might use on the internet, they have to set up usernames and passwords. The username is generally created so the user can have a bit of privacy. The password is to ensure their account is kept safe.

 

What are the risks?

Stalkers have many ways of getting usernames and passwords. Keylogging, as discussed previously, is one of them. Another is using a program that does what is known as a “brute force” attack. It simply keeps trying the most common passwords until it gets in. Through these means, a stalker can gain access to their victim’s private details – including usernames and passwords to a variety of programs, websites, etc. With this information, the stalker can access those accounts and change the victim’s details. They can redirect the victim’s mail to the stalker’s address, change passwords and private details. Anything the victim can do online, the stalker would be able to do and/or change.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Always use secure passwords. A combination of symbols, numbers and upper and lower case letters. Always use 8 characters or more.  This way, the password is hard for a human to guess, but also quite difficult for a computer program to figure out through a brute force attack. The more complicated your password is, the more protected you are.

·         Below are examples of problematic passwords. Not only do they not meet the criteria above, but they are also some of the most common passwords online, which means they are even easier to guess.

o        password

o        letmein

o        iloveyou

·         Here are examples of secure passwords. They are complex enough to be difficult to guess or hack, but they are not so complex that the user will forget them.

o        P3n310p3 (Penelope)

o        A1rp14ne5 (Airplanes)

o        Ch1r0pr4ct0r (Chiropractor)

o        24itmfn! (24 is truly my favourite number!

 

o        Change your passwords regularly. The longer you use the same password, the more chance a stalker will discover it. It is recommended that you change your passwords at least once every three months.

 

o        Create a new password for each website you access. At the bare minimum, create a new password for all different types of websites. For example, have one password for your bank account, a second password for your personal email address and a third password for your Facebook account.

·         This is a vital step to ensuring your information is hard to access. If you use the same password for your email address, your online banking and your Facebook account, someone stalking you only has to get one password to have access to your online life.

 

o        Do not keep your passwords stored on your computer. There are ways a stalker can access your computer, physically or remotely, and find these passwords.

 

o        If you must write down your passwords, keep them somewhere safe – and nowhere near your computer with no identifying comments. For example, don’t write: “Facebook password=letmein.”
 

o        Never use your real name, or part thereof, as your online screen name or email address. Do not use anything that can be used to identify you. Use an ambiguous username – a word that does not give reference to your gender, interests, location or name. The more information you can keep from a potential stalker, the better.

·         For example, let’s look at two usernames: “RachelSmith2795” and “AlphabetSoup.” A stalker can quickly determine by the username that “RachelSmith2795” is probably a woman named Rachel Smith that lives in Bathurst NSW (postcode 2795). However, what information can they gather immediately about the username “AlphabetSoup?” Essentially nothing. This makes RachelSmith2795 a much better target.

 

o        Do not keep emails that contain usernames and passwords to various websites, applications and programs.

 

IP addresses

What is it?

Every computer on the internet is given a unique internet protocol (IP) address. These IP addresses are similar to phone numbers and are a way for data to know where it is meant to be going.

 

What are the risks?

With an intermediate amount of technical knowledge, it is possible for the stalker to use this IP address to track down the user to within a neighbourhood. Combining this with other information gathered (i.e. photos from a Facebook page of the views from your kitchen window) it would be possible to find the victims exact location.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Make sure that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is providing you with a dynamic IP address. This way, each time you connect to the internet, your IP address will change, thus making it almost impossible to track you via IP address alone.

 

o        In extreme cases, you can look into using an anonymous proxy service. A lot of information regarding this can be found online. However, any IT professional can provide advice and assistance for this.

 

Cordless Phones

What is it?

A cordless phone (or portable phone) is a telephone with a wireless handset (not to be confused with a mobile phone) that sends radio waves back to a base station, which is connected with a fixed telephone line. The cordless phone has a limited range from the base station that limits use (generally to one house or small neighbourhood).

 

What are the risks?

Because the phones transmit calls over radio waves, the calls can be intercepted intentionally and unintentionally. Conversations on cordless phones can be picked up by radio scanners, but also by tools as simple and inexpensive as baby monitors.

 

Another risk of cordless phones is the risk of spoof phone calls. It should be noted that spoofing is not limited to cordless phones, it is a tactic that can be used on any phone. There are many ways a stalker can make a phone call to a victim without them knowing who it is coming from. This includes providers of “spoof” calls online, TTY providers and simply blocking their phone number.

How can I protect myself?

o        It is best to avoid a cordless phone if possible, as it will reduce the risk. If you do need a cordless handset, however, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe:

·         If you hear any strange clicking sounds while on a call, end it.

 

·         Purchase a phone that uses Digital Spread Spectrum (DSS). This means that the phone hops from one frequency to another to spread out the audio signature, which makes it much harder to detect.

 

·         Keep calls on cordless phones as short as possible.

 

·         Do not accept calls from “unknown” or “blocked” callers. If you do not recognise the caller’s name or number, do not answer it. If the call is important, they will leave a message. If it is a stalker, the message is evidence. If they are not a stalker, you can return their call.

 

·         It is not always advisable for a victim to change her phone number. If the stalker can no longer reach her by phone, he may escalate his behaviour and approach her. The best course of action is to take your phone down to the lowest rate plan and let calls go to voicemail or an answering machine, and let someone else screen the messages. Phone messages can be used as evidence if a matter goes to court.

 

Mobile Phones

What is it?

Modern mobile phones are in fact small computers capable of increasingly complex functions. We use them for everything from making calls, playing music, taking pictures, accessing emails and plotting the phone’s location via GPS.

What are the risks?

Stalkers can use mobile phones in a number of ways to stalk their victims. With physical access to the phone they are capable of reading previous text messages, accessing call records and installing “snoopware.” Mobile phone snoop or spyware can also be installed remotely.

Mobile phone ‘Snoopware’ is software installed on the phone that allows the stalker to listen in on any phone calls the victim makes or receives. It also allows the offender to activate the speaker on the phone remotely allowing it to function as a listening device. It allows the forwarding of all SMS’s to other phones and, most concerning, capable of tracking the phone’s location via GPS and plotting this location directly to an online map.

Even without access to the phone, a stalker can use GPS technology already built into a phone to track someone remotely, usually by a website. In Australia, one such example can be found on the BigPond.com website (http://everyone.whereis.com/?ref=Net-Head-Maps-Everyone). This is another tool that is provided with innocent intentions, but can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Additionally, some phones can be programmed to immediately answer an incoming call, without ringing. If this is activated, a stalker can call the victim and spy on their conversations without the victim being aware of the call taking place.

Another risk of mobiles, one that it shares with cordless phones, is the risk of spoof phone calls. There are many ways a stalker can make a phone call to a victim and conceal their identity. This includes “spoofing” using assistive technologies, for example, TTY, TTD, IP relay, and simply blocking their phone number.

Some examples of spy phones include: http://www.nokiaspyphones.com/spyphone-howitworks.html.

How can I protect myself?

o        Turn off you phone when it is not in use.

 

o        Do not accept calls from “unknown” or “blocked” callers. If you do not recognise the caller’s name or number, do not answer it. If the call is important, they will leave a message. If it is a stalker, the message is evidence. If they are not a stalker, you can return their call.

 

o        Never leave your phone unattended.

 

o        Never accept a mobile phone as a gift.

 

o        It is not always advisable for a victim to change her phone number. If the stalker can no longer reach her by phone, he may escalate his behaviour and approach her. The best course of action is to take your phone down to the lowest rate plan and let calls go to voicemail or an answering machine, and let someone else screen the messages. Phone messages can be used as evidence if a matter goes to court.

 

o          Downgrade to a simplified phone without advanced features such as GPS and internet access

 

o        Contact you service provider if you are receiving abusive or inappropriate calls. Phone providers are able to reverse trace incoming calls and can forward this information to law enforcement.

 

SIM Cards

What is it?

A Subscriber Identity Module is a small electronic card inserted into mobile phones that provides a CPU for the operation of the phone as well as data storage. It is used primarily to locate the phone and trace calls properly.

 

What are the risks?

The biggest risk of SIM cards is it getting into the hands of someone with ill intentions. If a stalker can access their victim’s SIM card, they only need to put it into their own phone, or SIM card reader that not only see the information stored on the card like the contact list and call and text history, but also text messages (SMS) that the victim has deleted, as well as all their  contact’s details.

 

As with webcams being used as spy cams, SIM cards can be used as tools to spy on the auditory aspects of someone’s life. SIM cards can be inserted into listening devices allowing the offender to call the number (not the phone) associated with the SIM card. When they “call” their phone, it routes to this tool and automatically answers, allowing whoever was calling to listen in on whatever conversations are occurring near the device.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Never leave your phone unattended.

 

o        Never accept a mobile phone as a gift.

 

Voicemail and Answering Machines

What is it?

Answering machines tend to be unique to landline phones. Message can be recorded and played back at any time. Voicemail is commonly used by both landline and mobile phone consumers and allow callers to leave voicemail messages if they didn’t reach the person they were calling.

 

What are the risks?

If someone is being stalked, unfortunately ignoring the call is sometimes not enough to get rid of the person. Some stalkers will leave ugly messages on the victim’s voicemail or answering machine.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Although these messages can be very upsetting, it is important to remember that this is evidence against the stalker. Remember to keep the message for use in potential court cases.

 

o        It is not always advisable for a victim to change her phone number. If the stalker can no longer reach her by phone, he may escalate his behaviour and approach her. The best course of action is to take your phone down to the lowest rate plan and let calls go to voicemail or an answering machine, and let someone else screen the messages. Phone messages can be used as evidence if a matter goes to court.

 

Text Messages

What is it?

Mobile phones allow users to send quick messages to one another through the form of text messages. These messages are being used more and more as a form of communication and discussion. Text messages can also be sent from online to a phone.

 

What are the risks?

If a stalker has the victim’s mobile number, they can send numerous harassing messages to the victim. If the victim has the phone turned off, they will receive them when the phone is turned back on, so unfortunately that is not a good way of protecting themselves.

 

Additionally, like spoof phone calls, there are many ways that a stalker can spoof text messages.

 

How can I protect myself?

o        Consider changing your mobile number if you are receiving harassing messages. However, it is important to note that if you are involved, or think you will be involved, in a court case regarding the matter, the messages are evidence.

 

o        Contact your phone provider and see if they can put a block on incoming text messages to your phone. However, this will block all incoming text messages, which may not be practical if you use them for other purposes.

 

GPS

What is it?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) was developed by the US Department of Defense in the 1960’s and was made available to the general public in 1983. A GPS receiver calculates its position by precisely timing the signals sent by the GPS satellites high above the Earth. By triangulating these signals a receiver can approximate its position to within 5 metres.

What are the risks?

By utilising a GPS receiver, a stalker would be capable of tracking the movements of their victim.  Common ways this happens are by hiding a receiver in a car, in a person’s bag or by activating the GPS receiver in a mobile phone.

There are many providers of services that offer tracking of various GPS devices, which can be accessed online. The person being stalked would have no idea that their every move is being followed and recorded.

How can I protect myself?

o        If it seems like a stalker knows your every move (especially when using your vehicle) have your vehicle checked over by a trusted mechanic or law enforcement officer to ensure nothing has been attached.

 

o        Deactivate the GPS receiver in your mobile phone and/or check with you phone provider that GPS tracking has not been activated.

 

 

Additional steps to protect you from online predators:

o        Request that your friends and family do not post information about or pictures of you online. If they already have, ask them to remove this information.

 

o        Never post any personal details online. Do not mention your date of birth, your address, your phone number or that of any of your friends or family. Without this kind of information available, stalking you will be difficult and discouraging.                                  
 

o        If you are ending a relationship, especially if your ex is abusive or the separation is difficult, reset every single password on all of your accounts to something they cannot guess. Advise your bank and internet service provider that this person is not allowed to make any changes to your accounts. To ensure they cannot cause trouble, make these changes before you leave, if at all possible.

o        Search Google using “Your Name” – in quotations. This will show you everything that is currently online about you. Do this regularly to keep an eye on anything someone may be saying about you. Note: you are probably not the only person in the world with your name. Keep in mind that some things you find online with “your name” may not actually be about you.

o        Do the same Google searches with “Your Phone Number,” “Your Physical Address,” and other personal details.

o        Familiarise yourself with Google Alerts. This is a tool that will send you email notifications anytime a search term is found online. This is a great tool to use for your name, phone number, address and other personal details. Thus, if anyone posts your phone number on a personal ad, you’ll know about it.

o        Keep your friends and family safe as well. Do not post photos or details of your friends and family without their permission.

o        If anyone in your family pursues genealogy, ensure that they do not provide details about you online. Common ways of proving your identity are your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, where you were born, etc. Most of these details are commonly included in family histories and posted online.

 

If you think you are, or have been, a victim of technology stalking, below are some added steps to take to keep your information private:

o        When you change, really change. If you post on a message board and your username is “Kitty2795,” don’t move to another message board and call yourself “Cat2795.” A determined stalker will be able to find you and it is easy to work out “Cat2795” is probably “Kitty2795” as well.

o        If you find something suspicious has happened (i.e., loss of access to a credit card), change your information immediately with all other providers. This includes banks, ISPs and email providers.

o        Keep an eye on everything that may have been compromised. If something seems suspicious – be proactive in fixing it before it becomes a larger headache. For example, if you cannot access a bank account online, take the time to call the bank. Then look at all your email addresses and other bank accounts and everything else. If something seems suspicious, like your credit card is declined, do not assume that the problem is only with the credit card. Be proactive and you can prevent a significant amount of damage.

o        If you are receiving unwanted contact, make clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you again. Afterwards, do not respond to communications of any sort (including instant messaging, emails, flaming, etc.). However, do not delete the messages. Do not alter or edit them in any way, as they can be considered as evidence should the situation escalate.

·         Collate all emails that you receive from someone that is harassing, threatening, or otherwise abusing you.

·         Take a “screenshot” or “screen dump” if you receive harassing messages on forums, chat rooms or instant messaging.                           .
 

o        If harassment continues after you have asked the person to stop, contact the harasser's Internet Service Provider (ISP). Most ISPs have clear policies prohibiting the use of their services to abuse another person. Often, an ISP can try to stop the conduct by direct contact with the stalker or by closing their account. If you receive abusive e-mails, identify the domain (after the "@" sign) and contact that ISP. Most ISP's have an e-mail address such as abuse@(domain name) or postmaster@(domain name) that can be used for complaints. If the ISP has a website, visit it for information on how to file a complaint. 

o        Contact your local police station and inform them of the situation in as much detail as possible. They may ask for copies of the emails, which is why it is recommended that you do not delete them. They are evidence.

o        Be extremely cautious about meeting online acquaintances in person. If you choose to meet, do so in a public place and take along a friend.

o        Change your passwords. All of them. Immediately. Be sure to include numbers as well as upper and lower case letters. Always use 8 characters or more.  This way, the password is hard for a human to guess, but also quite difficult for a computer program to figure out through a brute force attack. The more complicated your password is, the more protected you are.

 

o        Do not assume you know who the stalker is. The stalker could be your ex. It could be his new partner. It could be their family. It could be an old high school friend. It could be a co-worker. It could be just about anyone. Do not try to keep yourself safe from one person – keep yourself protected from everyone.

 

Resources:

How to Take a Screenshot (also known as Screen Dump)

If something suspicious has appeared on the screen of your computer that you need to capture, it is easy to do a screen capture as follows:

·         Ensure what you want to capture is onscreen

·         Press the “Print Screen button on your keyboard. This button is oftenabbreviatedto “Prnt Scn” or something similar and is usually found in the top right hand corner of the keyboard.

·         Click on “Start.”

·         Click “Programs” or “All Programs.”

·         Click “Accessories.”

·         Double click on the program “Paint.”

·         When Paint is open, click on “Edit” in the toolbar, then select “Paste.”

·         You should see the image of your previous screen within the paint window.

·         Save this file onto your desktop. You will now be able to open the picture and it will show everything that was previously on your screen. This may be useful for providing evidence at a later date.

 

How to clear a web browser’s history, cache and cookies

First, you need to determine which browser you are using. To do this, simply open the browser you use to access the internet. Click “Help” and then click “About.” Use this information to guide you, as below.

 

If you use Internet Explorer 6:

o        Click “Tools” in the top menu bar.

o        Select “Internet Options” from the list that appears.

o        Make sure the “General” tab is selected.

o        The second section down is called “Temporary Internet Files.” In this section is a “Delete Cookies” button. Click it.

o        A dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm that you wish to delete these files. Click “Ok.” An hour glass will appear indicating that the cookies are being deleted. This may take a while. When the hour glass disappears, the cookies have been deleted from your computer.

o        The button next to the one “Delete Cookies” is called “Delete Files.” Click it.

o        Another dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm that you wish to delete these files. Click “Ok.” An hour glass will appear again while the files are being deleted. This may take a while as well. When the hour glass disappears, the files have been deleted from your computer.

o        The third section down is called “History.” There is an option to enter the number of days to keep in history. Change this to “0” and then click the “Clear History” button.

o        A dialog box will pop up asking you to confirm that you wish to delete your web browser history. Click “Yes.” Another hour glass will appear indicating that the history is being deleted. This may take a while. When the hour glass disappears, your web browser history has been deleted.

o        Click “Ok” to close the “Internet Options” dialog box.

 

If you use Internet Explorer 7:

o        Click “Tools” in the top menu bar.

o        Select “Internet Options” from the list that appears.

o        Make sure the “General” tab is selected.

o        The second section down is called “Browsing history.” In this section is a “Delete…” button. Click it.

o        A dialog box will open with many options. At the bottom will be “Delete all…” next to “Close.” Click “Delete all…”

o        Another dialog box will open, asking “Are you sure you want to delete all Internet Explorer browsing history?” Under this will be an option checkbox labeled “Also delete files and settings stored by add-ons.” Click the checkbox and click “Yes.”

 

If you use Internet Explorer 8:

o        Click “Safety” in the top menu bar, on the far right side.

o        When the drop-down menu appears, click “Delete Browsing History…” This will open a new window.

o        There will be 7 checkboxes and options next to them. Click on the checkbox for “Temporary Internet Files,” “Cookies,” “History,” “Form Data,” “Passwords,” “InPrivate Blocking data.”

o        IMPORTANT: Ensure the checkbox next to “Preserver favorite website data” is UN-ticked.

o        Click “Delete.”

o        A status window will appear as the history and all files are being deleted. When this window closes, all files have been deleted.

 

If you use Firefox version 2:

o        Click “Tools” in the top menu bar.

o        Click “Options.”

o        Click the “Privacy” tab.

o        Click “Clear Browsing History Now.” Your history and files will be deleted.

o        Click “Ok” to close the “Options” box.

 

If you use Firefox version 3:

o        Click “Tools” in the top menu bar.

o        Click “Options.”

o        Click the “Privacy” tab.

o        In the third section, labeled “Private Data,” click “Clear Now.” Your history and files will be deleted.

o        Click “Ok” to close the “Options” box.

 

 

Free Email Providers

There are several free email providers on the internet. These email addresses can be created anonymously.

 

·         Gmail  - A free comprehensive email, calendar and documents account provided by Google.

o        www.gmail.com

·         Yahoo – Free email account provided by search company Yahoo.

o        www.yahoo.com

·         Windows Live – A free email service provided by Microsoft. Previously known as Hotmail.

o        www.windowslive.com

 

 

Free Anti-Virus, Firewall and Anti-Spyware Programs

Lack of money is no longer an acceptable reason to not have antivirus protection with many high quality, free tools available. A few are listed below:

 

Antivirus:

·         Comodo Internet Security – This suite includes a Firewall.

o        www.comodo.com

·         Avast Antivirus

o        www.avast.com

·         AVG Antivirus

o        www.avg.com

 

Firewall:

·         Zonealarm Firewall

o        www.zonealarm.com

 

Anti-Spyware:

·         Malwarebytes

o        www.malwarebytes.org/

·         Ad-Aware by Lavasoft

o        www.lavasoft.com/

·         Spybot Search & Destroy

o        download.cnet.com/Spybot-Search-amp-Destroy/3000-8022_4-10122137.html

 

 

Secure Internet Browsers

It is recommended to install a more secure browser than Internet Explorer on your PC. The two most common alternate browsers are listed below. These are free to download and use.

·         Mozilla Firefox

o        www.firefox.com

·         Google Chrome

o        www.google.com/chrome