At Data Narro, we frequently collaborate with divorce attorneys seeking to safeguard their client’s rights, and occasionally, we’re called upon to assist when someone suspects their estranged spouse is cyberstalking or spying on them.
To be clear, Data Narro’s expertise lies in digital forensics and e-discovery. We excel in identifying, gathering, and processing digital data for civil lawsuits and criminal defense. We usually don’t offer services to individuals trying to detect and eliminate electronic surveillance. However, given the frequency of such concerns, we’ve compiled this helpful article to guide you on the necessary steps to protect yourself.
If you suspect you’re a victim of cyberstalking or surveillance, you must act quickly and methodically to protect yourself. This article explores common cyberstalking and spying methods and provides a step-by-step guide to safeguard your digital life.
Recognizing Cyberstalking and Surveillance
If your former spouse or partner consistently intrudes upon or threatens you through online communication, or if they seem to know more about your activities, whereabouts, or plans than should be possible, you may be a victim of cyberstalking and surveillance.
An ex-partner can exploit various technological methods to surveil you. These methods could range from using spyware and monitoring your social media to password theft and improperly using tracking devices.
Spyware is software secretly installed on your device(s), enabling someone to monitor your activities without your knowledge. It can record keystrokes, capture screenshots, and track browsing history, then send this information to a remote location.
Your physical whereabouts can be monitored via GPS tracking, which can be implemented on your smartphone, smartwatch, or a hidden GPS device. Products like Apple’s AirTags, intended to help find misplaced items, can also be exploited for stalking and surveillance. GPS devices and AirTags can be covertly attached to your personal items, allowing a stalker to track your location in real time.
Steps to Protect Yourself
If you suspect cyberstalking or surveillance activities, follow these steps to protect your privacy:
1. Reset All of Your Passwords
Start by changing ALL your passwords. This includes your phone, email, social media, and other online accounts. This might sound daunting, but it must be done. Your ex likely knows some of your passwords or favorite phrases you use to construct them. Reset by using a strong, unique password for each account, and consider using a reputable password manager to generate and keep track of them. (We like 1password, but the password managers built into Safari and Chrome work well, too. However, see step four to ensure you are not accidentally sharing your synchronized accounts with your ex.)
Always enable two-factor authentication where available for added security. Review security settings and select options that inform you when an account is accessed from an unusual or previously unauthorized browser.
2. Check Your Devices
Scan your devices for spyware. Numerous anti-spyware tools are available; some are free, while others require a subscription. If you’re unsure, consider enlisting an IT technician to help (Yes, Best Buy still offers home IT help.)
Here is a list of reputable malware/spyware security software products:
3. Secure Your Wi-Fi
Change your Wi-Fi network’s password and ensure it’s set to the most secure form of encryption available, typically WPA3. Consider upgrading if you’re using an older router that doesn’t support this.
Additionally, you need to make sure the admin password to the Wi-Fi router is changed to something only you know; often, these are left to the default setting.
Hiding your Wi-Fi network by making your SSID invisible can add an extra layer of security to your network. It makes it harder for potential unauthorized users to find your network since it won’t appear in their available network list.
Finally, use Wi-Fi security scanning software to ensure you don’t have any unwanted/unknown devices piggybacking on your home network. (Bitdefender Home Scanner is free.) This software can also report on any exploitable security weaknesses on the devices already connected to your network.
4. Review Shared or Family Plans
Shared family accounts linked to your Apple or Android devices are probably one of the easiest ways an ex can remotely access your accounts. Family sharing plans allow the synchronization of multiple devices with Apple or Google accounts and services. Without you realizing it, an ex-spouse may have an older iPhone or iPad synchronized to receive your email, messages, calendar, photos, or location information.
Sever these connections immediately. Remove suspected stalkers from shared family plans linked to your AppleID or Google Account. If you don’t know if you are in a family plan, you’ll need to log into your Apple or Google account to find out. Look for “Apple Family Sharing” or “Google Family Link.”
5. GPS and AirTags
If you suspect GPS/location tracking, check your vehicle and personal belongings for any unfamiliar devices. For AirTags, Apple devices will alert you if an unknown AirTag is traveling with you. If you receive such an alert, follow Apple’s guidance for locating and disabling the AirTag.
Also, make sure the “Find My Device” feature from both Apple and Google does not broadcast/share your device’s GPS information to anyone you do not trust.
6. Social Media Awareness
Be cautious with your social media usage. Cyberstalkers often gather information from these platforms. If possible, refrain from posting personal information or location updates.
Lockdown your privacy settings on all social media platforms to ensure that only trusted individuals can access your posts. Explicitly block people that you no longer trust. You might even consider taking a social media break or temporarily deactivating your accounts.
Don’t forget about fitness trackers that post your activities and locations to social fitness sites. Strava, RunKeeper, and MapMyRun are all platforms that can reveal information that might be best kept hidden.
7. Check the Kids’ Devices
Please be aware that it may be your children’s devices that your ex is using to gather information about you. These need to be locked down as well. If your kids have access to your social media posts, then your ex will likely have it as well.
8. Look for Hidden Cameras & Microphones
Finding and dealing with hidden cameras, microphones, and other devices can be tricky. These devices are smaller than ever and can be hidden in various places, including in electrical outlets, smoke detectors, clocks, and stuffed animals. Try this article as a starting point for dealing with hidden devices:
Norton Article: How to find hidden cameras: 10 detection methods
Steps to Take Beyond Technology
You should take several steps even before you address the technical issues.
First, you must inform your attorney and, if even a hint of violence exists, notify law enforcement immediately. Document and report all incidents. Let the people you trust in your life know about what is going on.
We urge you to read this WikiHow helpful article:
wikiHow Guide: How to Deal with an Online Stalker: Helpful Tips to Stay Safe
Additionally, this resource provides many helpful resources and articles.
Website Resource: The Cyber Helpline
(Note: This is a U.K.-based organization)
Cyberstalking and surveillance from an estranged or ex-spouse is a serious and illegal invasion of privacy, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Be vigilant, safeguard your digital footprint, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If you need evidence to support your claims, have your attorney reach out to a digital forensics professional, like those at Data Narro, to help gather and preserve digital evidence for law enforcement or litigation purposes.