Crimes like harassment and stalking have been a problem in our society for decades. However, with the growth of the internet and its ever-increasing influence on our daily lives, it has become easier for perpetrators to carry out these atrocities.
This frequent and persistent unwanted contact from either strangers or people you know is highly undesirable. Though cyberstalking takes place online, the outcome to the victim is at best annoyance, discomfort and at worst severe mental trauma, distress or even suicide!
While cyberstalkers are often driven by extreme emotions of inadequacy, they can also be motivated by a grudge due to unreciprocated love or vengeance for being wronged. Whatever their motive, cyberstalkers want to control their victims, using means of indirect manipulation or direct intimidation.
Miss Teen USA Exposed: Computer Was Hacked for One Year!
One such example of cyberstalking took place back in April 2013, which was revealed four months later after the conclusion of the Miss Teen USA pageant. Cassidy Wolf should have been on top of the world after taking home the Miss Teen USA crown, but instead she decided to use her newfound fame to bring an awfully dark personal struggle to light.
What Happened Exactly?
Wolf, a native of California, realized that her Facebook account was attempted to be hacked by someone from a different state. Soon, she got the scare of her life after opening an email that included naked photos of herself taken secretly through her laptop’s webcam. The teen was blackmailed by the stalker who threatened to use the subsequent images unless she performed sexual acts online for him.
“I wasn’t aware that somebody was watching me [on my webcam],”said Wolf, who became a cyberstalking victim before she would go on to win her national title. “The light [on the camera] didn’t even go on, so I had no idea.” The teen, however, didn’t give in to the threats and went to the authorities which led to a federal investigation of the case.
Who Was Responsible?
Though Wolf could not reveal details about what kind of photos were they, or what the stalker was trying to extort, she did mention they captured things people do “in the privacy of their own room,” when they don’t expect to be watched. The two year-operation included the arrest of Alex Yucel, a Swedish hacker and co-creator of Blackshades, a software used by hackers to control computers remotely.
It was also found that Wolf was watched for a whole year by her former classmate Jared Abrahams, who implanted the same malware on her laptop. He was jailed for hacking 100-150 women, but was released 18 months later after posting $50,000 bail and kept under house arrest on the condition that he refrains from using the internet.
“It was traumatizing,” she said. “It’s your bedroom. That’s your most private, intimate space and that’s where you should feel the safest.” Although she never had any interactions with Abrahams, Wolf said that she knew of him and his name as she saw him in the high school’s hallways. She was relieved to find who the person is, but had mixed emotions about Abraham’s arrest and felt badly for him.
After all, it was someone from her high school – who would have ever thought of that? Wolf said, “He is young, my age, and I just think it’s sad that he chose to do this and has now put himself in this big dilemma. I don’t think he realized the consequences [to the things] that he’s done. He terrorized me and many other girls for so long.” – Via Daily Mail.
How to Protect Yourself against Cyberstalking?
If the thought of cyberstalking frightens you, well, it should! That discomfort is a constant reminder of why it’s extremely important to be alert and cautious on the internet. Also, it’s just as important to be vigilant offline too. For example, the smartphone that you rely so heavily on can easily be manipulated with technology.
“You can have lots of blocks and barriers on the phone, but most of the attacks we see today are happening through social engineering,” says Nadav Peleg, a cyber-security expert. ”So you don’t actually have to physically have the phone, all you need to do is trick people in order to accept either a malicious app, an email attachment or SMS in order to install a malicious profile that can take over your phone.”
While awareness is the first step in the right direction, taking action is another. Here are a few tips that can protect you against cyberstalking:
- Regularly change passwords for your all accounts, including e-mails, social media, laptops and cell phones and keep them safe.
- Review all your security and privacy settings from time to time.
- Ensure your mobile devices and computer have updated anti-spyware and anti-virus installed and turned on.
- Don’t send or receive private information when you use public Wi-Fi.
- Review what financial and personal information about you exists online and keep it to a minimum.
- Be suspicious of any texts, emails or telephone calls asking you for your identifying information.
- Never make the mistake of revealing your home address.
- Have your computer or mobile device checked by a professional if you think you are being targeted.
Cyberstalking cases like Wolf’s should serve as a reminder about the dangers of cyberstalking and the disastrous effects they can have on an individual. While it may seem backwards that not a lot can be done to protect yourself from cyberstalking, one thing is for certain: lawmakers in the US need to understand the urgency of this growing problem and pick up the pace if we are ever to fight cyberstalking with legislative tools.