Is someone watching you on the web?
UNLESS you use online services such as Skype that lets you video-chat to friends and family around the world you probably forget there’s a camera on your home computer. However, while you may not regularly use the technology, cyber stalkers can and do.
Take Rachel Hyndman, a 21-year-old student from Glasgow, who discovered she was being spied on in her home by an online Peeping Tom.
She noticed her webcam had switched itself on while she was in the bath. A hacker had accessed her computer via a RAT (Remote Access Trojan) virus which often appears in an email as an advertising mailout.
However, once downloaded it gives the sender control of the infected computer.
If a digital stalker like Rachel’s has access to your computer they have the power to switch on your webcam to spy on you, operate your keyboard, view emails and access your personal files.
While the RAT virus might sound like science fiction, countless women have fallen prey to it including myself. A few years ago I was using an old PC while waiting for my new iMac to arrive.
I noticed strange things happening. Documents went missing from my desktop, font sizes were changed and photos were deleted.
I called Virgin Media to see if there was a problem and an IT whizzkid took remote control of my machine. He could see that a “ratter” had hacked his way in. Luckily he was able to read the hacker’s IP address (a unique code given to each computer). He was able to contact the person concerned and tell him to stop.
This obviously scared the hacker off as things returned to normal and weeks later my new super-secure Mac arrived. However, it was an unnerving experience that left me wary of computer security and I now cover up my webcam when I’m not using it.
Yet digital stalking isn’t just about webcams. Cyber crime expert Tony Neate from Get Safe Online says: “The most common forms of digital stalking occur via email or social networking. Specifically it includes monitoring what you and your friends post, sending abusive text and email messages and taking over your online accounts.
“Stalkers also post cruel rumours to damage reputations. In some cases they impersonate the victim.”
Jennifer Perry, author of Digital Stalking, says: “Guessing someone’s password isn’t as difficult as you think. People use familiar words and ex-partners often know a victim’s password.”
So why do stalkers do this? Sometimes they want to gain access to bank accounts or similar information but often the reasons are not financially motivated.
“Stalkers usually suffer from a personality disorder and are delusional. They have an obsessive nature too,” explains Jennifer.
“They search for information to find out where we go, how we feel and the identity of friends and family. Our digital lifestyle feeds the abuser’s obsession because these days it’s so easy to find out what people are doing via the net.”
According to a study from Echo (Electronic Communication Harassment Observation), women are more likely to fall victim. Sixty per cent of victims are female and Rachel Griffin from the National Stalking Helpline confirms that in a 12-month period, 77 per of callers were women.
“Victims are being stalked by friends, former colleagues or someone with whom they’ve had no relationship at all,” she says.
“However, just over 40 per cent are stalked by a former partner.”
So what can be done to deter a digital Peeping Tom?
Scott Freeman from cyber bullying charity Cybersmile says: “Being the victim of digital stalking can feel overwhelming but there are things you can do to take control.
“Don’t let the stalker know the behaviour is affecting you as that’s the reason they do it. Contact the police because it can constitute a criminal offence in the UK.
“Report the offence to the network provider or social network. Even if they can’t help you they must log the complaint.
“Keep all evidence of harassment such as screenshots, texts and emails. This information might be needed to convict the stalker.
“Keep a diary of the abuse, keep calm and seek help.”
*For information on how to stay safe visit getsafeonline.org. If you’re being stalked call 0808 802 0300 or go to cybersmile.org or digital-stalking.com