Two in five Americans have experienced some form of online harassment and cyberstalking. Digital technology, including your devices, social media, and other platforms, makes your information more easily accessible. Unfortunately, connectivity convenience has unintentionally made it easier for cyberstalkers to target their victims.
What’s even more disturbing is that you could be stalked and not even know it. To be clear, “unwanted attention” counts as stalking, whether digital or otherwise, and is a crime.
In this article, I’ll explain what cyberstalking is and how you can protect yourself against it. Let’s start with the definition.
What Is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking refers to using electronic communication media, like the internet and mobile phones, to monitor a person or group’s activities. The attention is considered unwanted. People commit cyberstalking for many reasons, including to harass, annoy, intimidate, threaten, abuse, humiliate, or lure the victim. In addition, cyberstalking often involves slander, impersonation, sabotage, sexual solicitation, and other offensive behavior.
You don’t always know why you’re being cyberstalked. It’s also hard to know to what extent the cyberstalker will go during these scenarios, especially in cases where you don’t know the cyberstalker. You also don’t know their ability to comprehend or rationalize the situation. In effect, you should assume the cyberstalking could be potentially life-threatening until proven otherwise. So let’s look at how you can recognize you’re a victim of cyberstalking.
Recognizing the Problem
Cyberstalking is persistent. It may take place on social media, chat apps, discussion forums, text, or email.
The stalker is often someone you know, even though you may not always know who exactly it is. That said, sometimes you don’t know the person stalking you at all.
Cyberstalking is especially dangerous because you can’t escape the problem by moving to a different location. Since the stalking occurs via electronic means, it could follow you wherever you go.
If you think you’re experiencing cyberstalking, it’s essential to keep a level head and make sure you don’t jump to conclusions. Let’s look at some examples of this.
Grounded Situational Awareness
Cyberstalking, like traditional stalking, pertains to unwanted attention. As a result, you should ensure you don’t mislead a person and later classify their attention as unwanted. Be very careful in your dealings with people online to reduce issues later.
First, make sure what you’re experiencing is cyberstalking. False accusations against another person can cause headaches for both of you.
Additionally, avoid talking to anyone but the police, your lawyer, and a trusted friend or family member. This is important if you have to file for legal proceedings later on. Unfortunately, many times, people use cyberstalking accusations as a weapon to act maliciously towards others, making legitimate cases difficult to resolve. Ensure you don’t damage your credibility or give room for contradiction in your testimony.
Cyberstalking can present a variety of negative consequences for the victim. I’ll be walking through these next.
Attention to Cyberstalking Consequences
If you’re a victim of cyberstalking, the consequences are harmful and far-reaching. You may want to ignore the harassment and move on with your life, even denying you’ve been a victim. Cyberstalkers, however, can be relentless. They also relish in what they perceive as fear-based control over their target.
If you’re the victim of cyberstalking, you may experience an array of emotional states, including anxiety, hypervigilance, and lack of concentration. In addition, it’s common to feel suicidal, abuse drugs and alcohol, and develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
To avoid these effects, you’d want to identify cyberstalking’s multiple forms and different classifications. Again, understanding the nature of the problem helps form a better solution. Next, let’s take a look at the types of cyberstalking that exist.
Common Cyberstalking Scenarios
The type of cyberstalking you may be the target of depends on the nature of the cyberstalker and the method they use to cyberstalk you.
Relationship with the Victim
Your relationship with the cyberstalker determines the nature of a cyberstalker. Below are a few examples of the kind of relationships you might come across.
The cyberstalker could be:
- A current, former, or hopeful romantic partner.
- A former or current friend who knows a lot about you: stalking occurs subversively as the individual won’t want to be seen openly attacking you.
- A supervisor, coworker, or subordinate could use cyberstalking to harass and demean you in the workplace or online.
- A person you met occasionally or briefly interacted with in person or online.
- An online mob that’s incited to attack you. This will be preceded by a campaign that portrays you as deserving of harassment and ridicule. Participants also consider it vigilantism.
Cyberstalking also happens in a variety of different ways. The different cyberstalking techniques have slightly different intentions—below are a few examples.
The cyberstalker may:
- Follow your social media activity to gather information and identify your physical location to harass you in person.
- Create a fake profile on social media or dating sites to gain your trust and obtain access to your personally identifiable information. This is called Catfishing.
- Dox you by publishing confidential or false information about you on websites, blogs, social media pages, or emails to encourage the public to harass you.
- Install or fit stalkerware onto your devices or assets. These applications and gadgets allow cyberstalkers to monitor your messages, transactions, calls, etc.
No matter the stalking scenario, you can make it harder to become a target. So let’s look at how you can protect yourself.
How to Protect Yourself against Cyberstalking
The best case scenario is to prevent cyberstalking from occurring. You can do this in several ways.
Secure Your Digital Devices
You can take steps ahead of time to protect your digital devices. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:
- Set automatic updates for software on all devices you use to stop cybercriminals from installing spyware.
- Install a reputable antivirus that detects, blocks, and removes malware.
- Avoid installing mobile apps that request access to personal information like contacts, call logs, messages, photos, and location.
- Avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi. If you must, use a virtual private network (VPN) to conceal your IP address and encrypt data packet contents.
Protect Your Digital Presence
You can always protect your digital presence preventatively to avoid problems later. Here are a few quick tips:
- Google your name, intimate partner, and kids to see what information is available to the public. Leverage the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to get personal information uploaded without your permission removed.
- Strengthen your social media profiles’ privacy settings.
- Use pseudonyms on your social media profiles and not your real name.
- Only provide information that’s mandatory for creating your account. Leave optional sections blank.
- Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication to protect your accounts and devices better.
- Avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi. Avoid accessing, registering, or contributing to shady websites.
- Do not post your personal information on public forums or publicly visible social media accounts.
These measures can help prevent cyberstalking, but they won’t always be successful. If they fail to prevent cyberstalking, you can follow various channels to resolve the matter. Next, I’ll explain what to do if you’re a victim.
What to Do If You Are a Cyberstalking Victim
Cyberstalkers can be stubborn as they often feel they are conducting their actions remotely, anonymously, and safely. As a result, you may have to combine multiple responses to get the matter completely resolved.
3 Ways to Take Action against Your Cyberstalker
You can always take action to protect yourself. Here are 3 steps to follow to take action against your cyberstalker safely :
- Contact local law enforcement. This gets the harassment on the official record and starts the legal process. Many cyberstalkers will back off once the police are involved.
- Let a trusted family member or friend know what’s going on.
- Report it to your employer.
6 Ways to Secure Your Digital Presence
Once you have alerted the authorities and trusted persons, securing your digital presence is next. Here are the steps to take to prevent further harm from your cyberstalker:
- Run a malware scan on all your devices.
- Change all passwords and configure the highest privacy settings.
- Implement multi-factor authentication (if available) to validate it’s you when someone uses your credentials.
- Create new accounts to make it difficult to access new credentials.
- Make it clear to the stalker that you are not interested in online or in-person interactions with them.
- Block the cyberstalker and report them to the platform they are on and your internet service provider (ISP).
- Change your profile details and privacy settings if you know or suspect a particular chat room, online forum, messaging service, or social media platform.
Let’s now look at security solutions that can help you reduce stalkerware on your platforms.
Top 3 Security Software to Use
You can install software on your digital devices that can help protect you from cyberstalking. Let’s look at 3 of the top security software on the market.
KerioControl is a unified threat management solution that can help you protect yourself from cyberstalkers. Its features and capabilities include a firewall, intrusion protection, antimalware, content filtering, application filtering, bandwidth monitoring, and a VPN. You also can configure and manage this through a centralized web-based interface.
For instance, you can use KerioControl to block your cyberstalker’s email address and email server. You can do this through user-friendly controls that you can access from anywhere. However, this is only possible if you already know your cyberstalker’s email address.
KerioControl also enables you to actively monitor downloads and screen them for malware and stalkerware. You can apply KerioControl across all your platforms and devices to protect yourself.
KerioControl is available as software, hardware, or a virtual machine. A similar product that may be useful to consider is NordVPN.
NordVPN is an antimalware and VPN solution that protects the privacy of your interactions on the internet. It safeguards your online connections through online data encryption to give you greater confidence to shop, transact, and communicate even when using public Wi-Fi networks. VPNs protect you from packet sniffing attacks that intercept internet traffic between your router and the recipient to gain your credentials and personal information. This is useful for either deterring the stalker or stopping them from gaining more information about you.
NordVPN doesn’t maintain any interaction logs. It also doesn’t throttle your bandwidth. Unlike KerioControl, NordVPN is a software-only solution and primarily provides a VPN service. You’ll still need a firewall and antivirus solution to complement this offering to help improve your security and protect yourself from cyberstalkers.
3. WatchGuard Firebox
WatchGuard Firebox is a solution that adds all the network security solutions you need and integrates them into infrastructure endpoints and routing equipment. Instead of needing dozens of different products from various solution providers, Firebox provides their solutions in different forms.
Features include HTTPS monitoring and packet sniffing, router based VPN security, zero-trust security, and site defined WAN (SD-WAN).
The only challenge with implementing Firebox solutions is that you need to buy new hardware, which you may view as wasteful.
If you’re receiving unwanted attention online, you must report it to the police as soon as you’re aware you’ve become a victim. Ignoring it is potentially dangerous: You don’t always know the stalker’s motivation which makes it impossible to know how far they’ll go to cause you emotional damage or physical harm.
If you want to protect yourself from cyberstalkers, ensure you secure your devices, and accounts and hide your credentials. This is where integrated security solutions like KerioControl become useful. These solutions use intelligent tools to screen traffic, encrypt your data, and filter and block cyberstalkers and their stalkerware.
Do you have more questions about cyberstalking? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!
What can I do to protect myself from cyberstalkers?
First, you must contact the police. This helps to start legal action if needed. Many cyberstalkers will back off once the police are involved. In addition, ensure you secure your digital accounts with multi-factor authentication, use a VPN, and a complete network security solution.
What types of cyberstalkers are there?
Cyberstalkers may be individuals you know or that you don’t. They may also work as a mob and consider their actions a useful tool for society, like vigilantes for extremist groups. As soon as you know you’re receiving unwanted attention, contact the police. Next, secure all devices and traffic with a complete security solution like KerioControl.
What cybersecurity tools can I use to protect myself from cyberstalkers?
After contacting the police, start securing your digital presence. You need a complete security solution like KerioControl that enables you to screen nefarious payloads that include stalkerware, blocks addresses and domains, allows you to use a VPN to encrypt traffic and establish zero trust zones on your network to stop malware from spying on you.
Is cyberstalking a crime?
Yes, cyberstalking is a form of stalking. Stalking is defined as a person or group giving you unwanted attention. Unfortunately, people use it as a weapon to bully and cause harm to others, making it difficult for victims to be taken seriously. After contacting the police, use a modern, integrated anti-stalking ware platform like KerioControl to protect your digital presence.
What can I do if I can’t shake off my cyberstalker?
After contacting the police and allowing their cybercrime unit to investigate, you may find your cyberstalker falls outside your country’s jurisdiction. Often, police departments know the culprit but can’t take action for this reason. Protect yourself and use a complete anti-stalkerware and security solution like KerioControl.
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