The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee have released survey data in light of the Annual Stalking Awareness Month indicating that 20 per cent of Americans have been affected by cyberstalking, persistent emails, and other unwanted contact. JZ Analytics conducted the survey. You can download a copy of the report here.
Stalkers generally leverage various kinds of technologies – including the Internet and Web connected devices – to stalk their victims. The Stalking Resource Center states that one in four victims report that the stalker uses technology, such as computers, global positioning system devices, or hidden cameras, to track the victim’s daily activities.
“In order to effectively combat unwanted contact, it is important to know the signs of stalking and how to deal with such related incidents,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “Aggressive outreach such as persistent emails, harassing posts or text messages are not acceptable forms of online communication and NCSA encourages affected individuals to contact local law enforcement or victim service agencies to report such activities and get help.”
In researching Internet related crimes, NCSA/McAfee research found that almost one in five Americans (17 per cent) have been victimized through experiences like identity theft, data theft, stalking, bullying or auction fraud and nearly twice as many (29 per cent) reported knowing someone who had been victim to Internet crime.
When asked if local law enforcement was equipped to handle reports and investigate crimes committed over the Internet, two thirds (52 per cent) of Americans noted their local police department’s capabilities in dealing with such crimes are not sufficient enough.
Stalking is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While it can be difficult to determine how to best go about reporting a cyber crime or digital stalking, NCSA and McAfee has a few pointers.
1) Create strong passwords – Make it difficult for someone to guess your passwords by using a mix of letters, numbers and characters and make sure that they don’t spell anything. Passwords that include the name of your pet or some other personal detail could easily be guessed, allowing an attacker to gain access your account. The same goes for security question answers. Choose hard-to-guess answers to prevent someone from using the password retriever function to obtain your password.
2) Cleanup your online profiles – Don’t include your address or phone number in an online profile. If you must use a professional networking site such as LinkedIn for work, include your company’s corporate address instead of your actual office to prevent someone from knowing where you work. Think about each piece of information you include on your profile and whether it would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.
3) Lockdown your privacy settings – If you are a social networking user, make sure to set all of your privacy settings to “private” or “friends only” to keep people outside of your network from accessing your information. It’s also important to regularly check the settings to make sure there haven’t been any changes that leave your data exposed.
4) Be careful whom you connect with – When using social networking sites, only connect with people who you know in real life. A stranger who tries to “friend” you could become trouble later on. Also, pay attention to the people your friends are connected with to prevent your information from being shared with someone suspicious.
5) Google yourself to see what’s out there about you – You might be surprised at what you find when you “Google” yourself. Old website profiles, online forum posts, and pictures of you posted by other people could all be unearthed in a quick search. If you find information about yourself that you want removed, contact the website or person hosting the content.
6) Don’t use an email address that is easy to identify – Stay under the radar by selecting online handles that don’t include your name, date of birth, or other details about you that a stalker might easily recognize. Once you have an anonymous address, guard it as you would your credit card or Social Security number.
7) If you have a personal website, don’t post your email address – These days many of us have blogs and personal websites, but it’s a bad idea to post your email address. Instead, use a contact form so that people can reach you without having your personal address.
8) Be careful when posting photos online – You never know where photos can end up when you post them online. Someone could find them in an image search, post them to a website or downloaded them to their computer. And if the photo contains information about where you live or work, you could wind up giving a stalker all the information they need to locate and harass you.
9) Avoid using location-based services – “Checking in” to restaurants and other locations can be fun, but it can also be dangerous if someone is stalking you. If you must use location-based services, choose a unique username or alias that is not associated with any of your other accounts to make it more difficult for people to identify you.
10) Delete old posts or entries – If you have a stalker, they will scour the Internet for any tidbit of news about you so it’s a good idea to delete any old forum posts, Tweets or status messages that include any personal details or information that could allow them to find you both online and off.
[Image courtesy: National Cyber Security Alliance]