Lavasoft News - June 2007

Cyber-Stalkers Invade Personal Spaces

You know that the world is becoming a smaller place when it is possible to find an address and get directions with a few clicks on a mobile device. Another few clicks and you can find out the precise coordinates marking your location in space. You may even keep a record of it in time, if you were so inclined.

If itís easy for you, think about how easy it is for others. But why would anyone want to know your precise whereabouts, and what could they do with that information?

Plenty, it turns out.

You donít need to be a high-profile artist to be the subject of unwanted attention. Cyber-stalking can come from a former partner or spouse, a total stranger, or perhaps an estranged co-worker.

The Washington Post recently reported that stalkers with cursory computer knowledge have been able to track the e-mail and Web activity of current or recently divorced spouses. Stalkers can choose from an array of spyware, GPS devices on their own or embedded in mobile phones, and tiny cameras, to keep track of their victims. By working in this way, they can remain anonymous and operate anywhere from a distance of a few blocks, to many time zones away.

The victims of cyber crime may not readily know who is invading their privacy. This, in itself, can make victims feel powerless. But what is worse is that they may not know the extent of the information that may have been compromised. The range of possibilities, from legal documents and financial transactions, to intimate correspondence, is enormous.

Armed with that information, a stalker can decide to show up unannounced to track a victim. Another may choose to send harassing e-mails, electronic junk mail, and computer viruses. And yet another, as reported on CNET News, could intend to use the collected information as ammunition to help win a divorce settlement.

Whichever form they take, these tactics are meant to induce fear. Police departments are being trained to deal with cyber-stalking, but prosecuting these crimes presents many challenges.

How can you protect yourself against cyber-stalking? According to Douglas Schweitzer, an Internet security specialist with Computer World, it is wise to be cautious with your personal information. Follow these guidelines to protect yourself:

  • Donít use your real name as your screen name or user ID.
  • Donít share personal information in public online spaces or give it to strangers in e-mail or chat rooms.
  • Donít post personal information as part of a user profile.
  • Make sure that your Internet provider and any online communities you frequent have policies that prohibit cyber-stalking.
  • Change passwords frequently.
  • Hand-deliver important documents.

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