When we think about cybersecurity, we often think of security from identity theft, fraud, phishing, or hackers who steal passwords and information. But cyber – or online – security has a broader meaning for victims of domestic and sexual violence and stalking. Cybersecurity also means personal safety – safety from harm, harassment, and abuse while online.
For many survivors, being online can feel unsafe because the abuser or stalker is accessing their online accounts to monitor their activities; posting harmful and negative things about them, including sexually explicit images and personally identifying information; or using cyberspace to harass and make violent threats under the cover of “anonymity.” Abusers and stalkers often compromise the security of survivors’ technologies by installing monitoring software on cell phones or computers or forcing them to reveal passwords to online accounts.
Online harassment, in the context of abuse and stalking, can have serious and dangerous consequences.
Abusers in intimate partner violence misuse technology in many ways: to stalk and monitor victims, to harass victims through the “anonymity” of the technology, and to impersonate victims through technology, such as creating false social media accounts. The survey found that 79 percent of programs reported that abusers monitor survivors’ social media accounts, 74 percent report that abusers check victims by text messages, and 71 percent report that abusers scrutinize survivors’ computer activities.
Using technology to facilitate harassment of the victim is a major tactic by abusers, according to the reporting programs. Abusers harassing survivors via text messaging was reported by 96 percent of programs, while 86 percent reported that abusers harass victims through social media.
Of the type of technology misused by offenders, social media, text messaging, and email were the top three. It is not unusual that these three technologies should be reported the most abused by offenders. Abusers seek to disrupt and interrupt survivors’ lives. Stalkers gather information and monitor victims’ activities based on where they are and what they are doing. According to Pew Research Internet Project, 74 percent of adults who are online use a social networking site of some kind and 81 percent of adult cell phone owners send and receive text messages.
In fact, nearly all (99%) the responding programs reported that Facebook is the most misused social media platform by abusers. This finding is not shocking. Facebook is a platform in which abusers and survivors both engage in. With over 1.2 billion monthly active users, Facebook is a key place for offenders to access information about victims or harass the victim by directly messaging the victim or the victim’s friends and family. An advocate wrote: “Facebook is the hardest for survivors to shut down or avoid because they use it to keep in contact with other friends and family.”
Online Privacy & Safety Tips
Browsing the web safely and privately is concern for many people. A good general rule is that nothing online is private.Another general rule is that you can’t be completely anonymous online. However, you can take steps to prevent sensitive and personal information from making its rounds on the Web.
Have more than one email account and use them for different purposes.
Create email addresses that don’t contain your full name since that can be very identifying.
Safest passwords contain letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid words that are in a dictionary and any important dates.
Try not to have the same password for every account. Come up with a system that’s easy to remember but will enable you to have a different password for each account.
Check out the privacy settings and make sure it’s set to the level of privacy you want. Keep in mind that even if you set your social network page to private, it doesn’t guarantee that your information is completely private.
Don’t forget that your friends may be able to see your other friends’ posts and pages even if they’re not friends with each other.
Be thoughtful about who’s on your friend list when you post or link to certain things.
Pay attention when creating an account. Oftentimes, this is when you can opt out of sharing personal information beyond what’s necessary to create an account.
Click “no” when it offers to check your email address book to find your “friends.” Some illegitimate sites have used this option by sending spam and viruses to everyone in your address book.
Try not to use your name or a combination of your name as your username.
When filling out account profiles, for increased privacy give no or very minimal information and opt out of joining the site’s directory.
For more privacy, try not to use too many applications with one account username/password. If someone guesses your username or password, they’ll have access to all your applications.
Log off when you’re not using an account and do not choose to have the computer remember your passwords.
Friends & Family
Talk to your friends and family about what they can post online about you.
Don’t forget that employers, churches, sport teams, groups, and volunteer organizations that you are a part of may share your personal information online.
Safe Web Browsing
Make sure you are running anti?virus and anti?spyware software and make sure that definitions are updated.
Periodically run scans on your computer, separate from your regular antivirus/antispyware, such as bitdefender online scanner [http://www.bitdefender.com/scanner/online/free.html].
Periodically delete history, cookies, temporary internet files, and saved forms and passwords from your web browser.
For added privacy, use anonymizers when you browse the web.
Most search engines keep records of search terms, so when using search engines, avoid searching your full legal name with information you don’t want linked together, such as your social insurance number or drivers license number.
Online Privacy & Safety Tips
Supported by US DOJ-OVW Grant #2007-TA-AX-K012.Opinions and recommendations expressed are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of DOJ.
© 2010 National Network to End Domestic Violence, Safety Net Project www.nnedv.org/safetynet Email: safetynet [at] nnedv.org Phone: 202-543-5566