By Carl Weiss
Like it or not, the age of the cyber stalker is upon us. Whether you are an employee, are married or have just ended a relationship, there are apps that make it all too easy for a third party to know a great deal of intimate personal knowledge about you. Worse still is the fact that for a few bucks any cyberstalker can acquire a sophisticated array of software that makes it child’s play to track your location in real time and listen or look in on what you are doing and with whom you are doing it.
|Cyber-Bullying-Infographic (Photo credit: Social Media Max)|
While this sounds like a plot for a sci-fi movie or novel it has become all too real for victims of this
twenty-first century scourge. During the past few months everyone from ex-boyfriends to a Seattle police officer have been prosecuted for spying on and/or posting sexually explicit photos of their former lovers online. Even children have been portrayed recently in the media for using the Internet to cyberbully classmates with sometimes tragic results.
The bad news is that in spite of recent legislation that can impose serious jail time on cyberstalkers, this is a crime that is on the rise, currently affecting one in six women and ten percent of all men. The good news is that there are steps that you can take to defend yourself in this all too wired world.
Is Facebook Becoming Cyberstalker Central?
The newspost that motivated me to write this blog is entitled, “7 Things You Told Facebook Without
Realizing It.” Posted on April 29 by vox.com, the staggeringly detailed post details a number of creepy apps that are available to the general public that are designed to trawl through Facebook to guess your income, your location and your passwords, to apps that seek out men or women who have just ended a relationship or even scout the social net for revealing photos. Like a virus, some of these apps are designed to jump from one post to another, burrowing into your list of friends in order to do the stalkers nefarious deeds.
Of course Facebook isn’t the only social net in vogue with cyberstalkers. And not all cyber stalkers are interested in seeing your swimsuit photos. A post from technorati.com points out that Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare are now being used by burglars to zero in on vacationing families. The article points out that not only do 75% of convicted burglars admit that criminals use social media to find homes to victimize, but they also admit to using Google Earth to case the neighborhood. (Let’s see the neighborhood watch foil these hi-tech thieves.)
The problem with most people is that they post way too much information on social sites. Everything from where you live to what you own is many times revealed in stunning detail (complete with photos). Then you casually post the fact that you are going to be leaving on that two week vacation and let everyone in cyberspace not only know how long you will be gone, but you also share photos of you at the airport waiting on your plane to pix of your vacation in real time. If this sounds familiar, then don’t be surprised if upon your return you find that your house and/or business has been rifled by thieves. (Heck why not show the thieves where you keep the spare key?)
The Technorati piece goes onto advise readers that if they don’t want to be victimized while on vacation they need to start by taking a vacation from using social media before or during any extended trip. They also advise you to consider sharing your vacation photos after the fact. The article also advises the public to advise their friends to avoid posting tidbits about them while they are on vacation unless it is to post the fact that you have just acquired a vicious watchdog.
You Always Hurt the One You Love
Even software that was originally purposed to protect those we love can be coopted into working for the bad guys. A blog on Motherboard.com points out the fact that spy software designed to help mothers keep tabs on their children has become popular fodder for those who wish to spy on others.
"We do have quite a large proportion of our customers who use mSpy specifically to catch a cheating spouse," mSpy communications director Tatiana Ameri told Komo News last year. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/tor-is-being-used-as-a-safe-haven-for-victims-of-cyberstalking
More illuminating is the fact that the article goes onto point out that there is an entire online realm that caters to those looking to spy on others.
"Digital communities have sprung up where individuals teach each other how to compromise cell phones to track victim’s whereabouts, listen to conversations in a room, take pictures, and read texts and email so that they can learn about their victim’s behavior on a microscopic level."
Even Spies Have Girlfriends
The piece also goes onto point out that even spies at the NSA aren’t above using top secret surveillance tools to keep tabs on loved ones. The program was so pervasive that it even had its own codename: LOVEINT. The revelation of this peccadillo so incensed Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that he petitioned the NSA to release information about LOVEINT. The information revealed that at least a dozen of the NSA’s best and brightest were implicated in the program.
Of course for every spy there is a counterspy. And in the age of cyberstalking there are a number of resources designed to help victims fight back. While many of these sites provide checklists designed to help you avoid becoming a victim of cyberstalkers, there are a few that take a more proactive approach. One of these is Tor Network, the same software employed by hackers, crackers, dissidents and whistleblowers to maintain online anonymity.
For several years, Tor, spearheaded by Tor Project executive director Andrew Lewman, has been tackling cyber stalking, working with domestic violence groups to set up countersurveillance programs to help victims evade online surveillance. The onion router can hide a victim’s identity long enough for them to research where to find help, and look up what data they can find about themselves without tipping off their stalker that they’re online, he said.
Remember that everything from your computer to your tablet and smartphone can be used against you. Malware can be surreptitiously installed on any or all of these that can allow a cyberstalker to take control of the device even to the point of activating the unit’s webcam. So aside from making sure you have one or more layers of software designed to detect and defeat spyware and malware also make sure that you don’t make it easy for cyberstalkers to get you in their clutches. Never click on links or email from people you do not know. Curtail your habit of sharing everything and anything about your personal life online. Above all, be wary of posting any photos that could be used against you at a later date.
Hey! Anybody want to see a picture of my new Rottweiler?
Carl Weiss is CEO of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida. You can interface with Carl every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern when he airs his radio show on Blog Talk Radio.