How Cyberstalkers Track You
New forms of technology and increased access to technology provide stalkers with new tools to terrorize their victims. Abusers continue to identify and adapt new computer software and hardware tools that allow them to further stalk and harass specific targets. They not only use low-technology monitoring options such as viewing the website browser history or intercepting email, but are also increasingly using more sophisticated spyware software and hardware for surveillance. One of the most common examples are stalkers who inundate former partners with emails and instant messages, often using automated senders and anonymous remailers that make it hard to identify the source.
E-mail and Instant Messages: One of the most common forms of cyberstalking, occurs when an offender sends unwanted or threatening messages, and/or impersonates you. When impersonating you, behaviours such as sending malicious software via Spyware, or viruses as e-mail attachments are common, and disruptive to your personal and professional relationships.
Web Forums and Other Online Discussion Areas: Common introduction point for unknown stalkers to access you.
Computer Monitoring Software (SpyWare): A type of hidden software that is installed on your computer without their knowledge. It is generally very small and will not interfere with the computer's functioning so as to go unnoticed, allowing an individual to monitor activities, to track usage and possibly discover your efforts to escape or access help. It can be installed remotely or by physically accessing your computer. SpyWare programs allow for regular emails to be sent reporting all of the computer activity, including all emails sent and received and all websites visited. Programs that claim to clear computer histories are ineffective if SpyWare is in use.
KeyStroke Loggers: Abusers with physical access to your computer can install and check hidden hardware devices called, “keystroke loggers”. The keystroke logger is inserted between the keyboard cable and the back of the computer. The device contains a small hard drive that records every key typed, including passwords, websites and email. They cannot be detected by firewall/anti-spyware software.
Fabricated Websites: Stalkers set up websites that threaten you, and encourage others to contact, harass or harm you. Some abusers encourage others to have you stalked by posting erroneous and harassing information on websites.
Location & Surveillance Technologies: Stalkers are increasingly using basic and sophisticated location and imaging technology to conduct surveillance. Now, tools ranging from inexpensive digital cameras to high-tech streaming video cameras and global positioning systems (GPS), while not inherently surveillance devices, are being used as such by perpetrators. GPSs now come in very small form, and can be used to pinpoint your location, facilitating tracking and following.
Social Network Stalking: When you voluntarily tell the world where you are and what you are doing, you make it easy for stalkers to track you. Social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook invite users to provide their whereabouts through status messages. Most of those sites have made it convenient for you to post from smartphones, with the option of including location information taken from the phone's GPS in the update. There are even apps like FourSquare, which allow users to “check-in” at different locations to earn points or badges. These check-ins are then publicly broadcast to the user's network of contacts. These check-ins are also publicly track-able with little effort. Some social networks, like Mologogo, are based almost entirely on geolocation. The point is to use your smartphone to "check in" when you're at a particular location, and then have your status updated with your whereabouts.
Even if you don't say where you are in your status messages, you could be revealing it in your photos. If your smartphone has a camera, it is common practice to take a photo or video and upload it. However, what is in the background of your photos such as, street signs and landmarks could reveal things about where you are. Furthermore, many smartphones geotag your photo when you take it and that data is uploaded along with your photo, revealing when and where it was taken. If you're trying to avoid stalkers, check the settings on your smartphone to find out how to disable geotagging, and be aware of how different social networking sites use and reveal geotags from your photos.
The safest way to avoid having a stalker use this data is to familiarize with how different sites use and publish it, and set security permissions accordingly.
Smartphone Tracking Software: It is possible you could be stalked by tracking software installed on your smartphone. Commercial tracking software for smartphones can serve good purposes; keeping track of your children or monitoring delivery employees. Unfortunately, some people have chosen to use the software for uninvited tracking activities.
Commercial mobile phone tracking software can be easily purchased on the internet. Most promote features such as reading text messages, listening to phone calls and tracking the phone's location on a map using its GPS. When installed it runs stealthily with no indication that it is gathering and sending this information. There are few, if any protections for end users who are being stalked. All that needs to be done is the stalker access the phone for a few minutes to install the software on it.
Users should always have their phones secured and protected by passcodes. They should also try to be aware of any security exploits, and what can be done to prevent them.
Smartphone Signal Interception: Smartphone hijacking and theft of your personal information may not be exclusive to stalking, but they are ways a stalker can find you. Your smartphone has a combination of radios and signals it uses to communicate. For phone calls, text messaging and Internet browser, your smartphone uses one or more cell-phone network protocols like GPRS, EDGE and 3G. Depending on the smartphone, you might also have a short-range Bluetooth radio, a GPS receiver, and one or more radios for connecting to different WiFi networks.
Bluetooth signals and connecting to open (unsecured) wireless networks are two of the common ways that a stalker can gain access to your phone and data. Limit your use of them to ensure that you are better protected.
You can still enjoy your smartphone while avoiding stalkers and hackers. Just use these four tips as your defence: know your smartphone, know its weaknesses, know how to keep it secure, and keep your personal information private.
Crawford, S. Could someone stalk you using your own smartphone. Accessed on February 9, 2011 at http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/phone-stalking.htm/printable
Southworth, C. et. al. (2005). A high tech twist on abuse: Technology, intimate partner stalking and advocacy. Accessed on February 9, 2011 at http://www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/commissioned/stalkingandtech/stalkingandtech.html#id131035. Last updated: Wednesday, March 25, 2009.