Cyberstalking: Definition and Means of ProtectionPosted on 20th February 2019
Cyberstalking! We bet everyone joked about this weird modern tendency at least once and used social media to dig out as many data about your crush (and whether he or she is dating someone) as it’s only possible. Is this cyberstalking? Well, if you are not intending to intimidate your crush, manipulate and blackmail them, then no. It’s probably just innocent inquiry made a tiny bit creepier by the realities of the modern world.
Then what is cyberstalking? Let’s find out.
What is Cyberstalking?
We’ve just determined that researching your new colleague online, or finding out about the favorite group of your crush isn’t cyberstalking. Then what is?
Since the term is relatively new, there is still debates about the legal definition of the term. Not every country has laws related to this issue.
Oxford Dictionary defines cyberstalking as “repeated use of electronic communications to harass or frighten someone, for example by sending threatening emails.” The main emphasis is on the words “harass” or “frighten” – true cyberstalking isn’t just collecting information about someone online, it’s collecting information to do harm.
Researchers state that it’s important to distinguish between trolling, cyberbullying and cyberstalking. While all of them may cause discomfort and upset the victim, the distinct feature of cyberstalking is malicious intent and carefully planned repetitive actions. An online stalker doesn’t simply want to upset its victim once – their goal is to cause major distress, as well as gain power over the target by obtaining sensitive or compromising information about them.
Types of Cyberstalking
Many people don’t report online harassment, because they can rarely identify the actions of online intruders as criminal. So, here are the most common types of cyberstalking, so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
Catfishing is a popular social engineering technique used by many cybercriminals for malicious intents. There are many different varieties, but we will focus only on the one relevant to this article. In this case, catfishing is creating a fake account and pretending to be a friend’s friend to gain the victim’s attention and establish a connection.
How to identify a catfisher?
If you are suspecting that you are being subjected to catfishing, check these points. Of course, these doesn’t 100% mean that your counterpart is a catfisher. Consider these rather as red flags to stay alert and vigilant.
- Your suspect has little to no friends.
- Their profile photo links to several other profiles when googled.
- The photos on the page are only selfies, they look staged or like they were downloaded from stock websites.
- The person vehemently declines your suggestions to talk via a video chat.
One or two such factors, probably, doesn’t mean anything suspicious, but if you see the combination of all four, plus your new friend expresses a rather weird behavior – then you should further investigate this or ask for help.
Monitoring your check-ins
If you are a fan of check-ins, it’s probably about time you stopped this or at least reduced substantially. By regularly posting the geo-location online, you are making it easier for the creeper to learn your habits and “accidentally” bump into you or, even worse, continue to watch you in person.
Visiting Your House
Well, not exactly, unless you let them in. However, if the stalker gets their hands on your home address they can pay you a visit virtually by using Google Maps. Nowadays even the smallest cities are mapped by Google, so the stalker can type in your address, and explore the surroundings without drawing too much attention. Creepy, right?
Abusing Your Webcam
It gets creepier and creepier. All the critical system vulnerabilities that allow people to access your camera have been fixed. However, cybercriminals come up with new ways to abuse the users’ cameras. For example, the stalker can try to trick you into downloading malware using the catfish account we’ve discussed above that will enable them to control your camera. And this opens endless possibilities to the stalker. Read on to find out how to protect yourself.
Using Geotags to Track Your Location
Now everything contains metadata – small pieces of information inscribed in any piece of content you upload online. For example, every digital picture you take contains geotags (unless you manually disable this function) in an EXIF format. A skilled enough user can download the picture using the source code of the page – yes, even from Instagram – and retrieve those tags to determine your location.
Okay, are you creeped out already? If yes, check the following tips below to help you stay safe.
Protect, Report, Stay Safe
Here are the steps you can take to prevent creepers from spying on you or to protect your personal data and offline life from infringement.
- Review privacy settings on all your social media accounts. Yes, it’s tedious work which involves recovering dozens of passwords, but it’s worth it in the long run. Social media are those little creeks through which the most personal information seeps out, and what is even worse – we willingly allow it to!
- Wanna check in? Don’t! It may be tempting to tag the location of the coolest espresso bar in the world you’ve just discovered, quash your urge, as it may cost you peace of mind and privacy. You can go a step further and turn geo-tags off manually, so your position isn’t recorded even in the smallest bits of data.
- No events, no stalking. We are not saying that you should cease all social activity and hide in a cellar, but at least try not to display it on social media, especially if you suspect that you are being stalked. Facebook events are great in terms of planning, but not so great when it comes to privacy.
- 2FA for everyone. Two-factor authentication is an awesome and easy way to add an extra layer of security to your account. And, of course, we can’t stress enough the need for long, complicated and diverse passwords. You can use a trusted password manager if needed.
- Secure public Wi-Fi. Is a secure public Wi-Fi even a thing? We will probably never stop annoying you about the importance of a good VPN to protect your personal info from snooping, especially when you are using a public hotspot. Stalkers may devise a clever plan to detect your favorite café, wait until you go there and log in to, say, your Facebook account, and steal all your data. So, it’s better to always have your VPN shield on.
- Check how much info about you is online. In other words, google yourself and see what comes up. If you believe there’s too much data about you online, then change the privacy settings of your social media accounts, or try to take down accounts if there are no other options available.
- Report the activity, save screenshots. If you are being harassed online, remember to always save screenshots or other copies of the malicious activity to use them as evidence. Also, report the activity to administrators and legal organizations, if necessary. If your country doesn’t have anti-cyberstalking laws, you can ask for help volunteer organizations that specialize in stopping cyberbullying, etc.
We hope you don’t have any personal stories and example regarding this topic, but if you do, we would be thankful if you could share them. Let’s make the online community stronger and safer together!