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How Do I Hack Thee? Let Me Count the Ways – A Cyberstalking Primer

By Carl Weiss

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Valentine ’s Day, a day for sweethearts, lovers, married couples and anyone with love in their hearts. But what happens when love is lost? What happens in our modern society when ex-lovers, sweethearts and couples hit the skids and go their separate ways? What happens when one or both of the ex-enamored ones decided they didn’t get treated right, or worse, they decided to dish out some malevolent treatment of their own?

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought I’d take the time to give all of our readers a little lesson on what can happen when a former long, lost love refuses to get lost.  I’m talking about the all-too-common practice of cyberstalking.  Along with hacking, this technocrime is on the rise worldwide.  If you want to avoid being your significant other’s online punching bag, you need to take precautions before the rose becomes a thornier issue, if you hope to have a moment’s peace should your relationship go kaput.

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If you search the news feeds, you’ll learn that cyberstalking is a common behavioral trait among human beings. That is, it’s executed by all ages, races, sexes and economic brackets.  An equal opportunity nuisance, everyone from grade schoolers to senior citizens have been accused of the crime.  By the way, ever since 1999, the act of cyberstalking has officially been considered a crime.  That was when California became the first state to pass a law that specifically addressed cyberstalking.  The law itself was an outgrowth of legislation that had been on the books since 1913, which addressed harassment via a then-new technology, the telephone.  The chief difference between that legislation and the new law was that it made it illegal to use email or any other form of electronic communication to threaten, abuse, annoy, embarrass or terrify another person.  These laws were further beefed up in 2009 with the passage of a cyberbullying law, which was specifically designed to protect minors from online harassment and intimidation.

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That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the successful prosecution and conviction of cyberstalking cases has been less than lackluster at best. Conviction requires “proving intent to do harm,” which is often nearly impossible to establish in court.  What can make prosecution of this cybercrime even more difficult is that it’s oh-so-easy to use a false name or anonymous email address to mask a stalker’s true identity.  So even if you know who’s been hacking you, trying to prove that definitively in court is challenging.

The Hack Attack is Back

With today’s sophisticated technology, harassing texts and emails are only the tip of the iceberg.  Off-the-  
shelf software can provide an obsessed cyberstalker with the means to quite literally track your every move.

A recent study from NPR stated that more than 85% of domestic violence shelters surveyed had acknowledged that some of their tenants/victims had been tracked by a GPS device.

I Thought I Saw a Peeping Rat

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An even more insidious form of cyberstalking is referred to as “ratting,” where perpetrators use a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) to commandeer the webcam on a laptop, tablet or cellphone in order to become an electronic peeping Tom. 

A newsfeed from stated: 

“Rachel Hyndman, a 21-year-old student from Glasgow, 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 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.”

The article goes on to say Ms. Hyndman contacted an IT professional that helped her track the perpetrator down and scare him off.  However, what most people don’t understand is that this is not a crime only  limited to male stalkers.  Far from it.

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In a news story a little closer to home, ABC News posted a video that featured a St. Augustine, Florida resident, Joe Good, whose life was turned upside down when he tried to break up with his fiancée.  After hacking her way into his social nets and email accounts, she proceeded to send pornographic photos of Joe to his employers.  But that was only the start of her onslaught of harassment.  Next, she had him arrested not once, but three times, by doing everything from telling the cops that Joe was making harassing calls, to using a voice morph app to record calls that purportedly came from him. (This cyberstalking trick is referred to as “spoofing.”)

Later, Joe’s jilted cyberstalker expanded her scope to include his new girlfriend (whom she accused of child pornography) and even Joe’s landlord.  Arriving back in the US after a brief vacation, Joe was even detained by US Customs after they received an “anonymous tip” that he was smuggling drugs. Remember the axiom, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

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In a blog post on entitled, “Cyberstalking Worse Than Stalking,” mental health researchers compared people who had been victims of stalking to those who had been victims of cyberstalking.  Their findings were surprising to say the least.

Victims of cyberstalking had to engage in more “self-protective” behaviors, pay higher out-of-pocket costs to combat the problem, and experienced greater fear over time than traditional stalking victims. Technology has changed what is known as the “risk/profiles” for victims, making stalking easier and self-protection harder.  “Technology in cyberstalking cases may be more harmful to the victim’s psychological well-being and reputation, thus more decisive in spurring quicker self-protective action,” said the researchers. The study also revealed differences between age and gender of victims.  In cases of stalking, approximately 70% of the victims were women, while female victims only represented 58% in cyberstalking cases. The average age for stalking victims in the sample was 40.8 years old, while cyberstalking victims averaged 38.4 years old.

Safe Text

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While many anti-stalking resources caution the public to avoid revealing too much of their personal lives online, this is not always a practical solution to someone whom you formerly knew well (at least so you thought) and loved.  Let’s face it folks, former lovers are far intimate for you to successfully employ passive defense measures.

Sad to say, but the minute you pull the plug on a love interest, if you want to have some measure of cybersecurity, you need to initiate the following damage controls sooner rather than later:
  • Change your passwords on all your social nets and email accounts
  • Consider changing your phone number
  • Don’t accept any emails or texts from a jilted lover
  • Don’t open any email attachment or text from anyone you don’t know
  • Add additional security measures to your computer, tablet and smartphone

While these measures are, in and of themselves, no guarantee that a scorned lover will simply walk away from a relationship, short of packing up and moving to another state ― better yet, a different country ― it’s about as good as it gets.  Because like it or not, in this technological age, many people only hack the ones they loved.

If you think you’re a victim of cyberstalking, here are some additional resources:

If you’d like to read similar articles, check out “The Hack Attack is Back,” “Is Google Watching You?,” "Cyberstalking for Fun and Profit" Or, simply type the phrases “hacking,” “cybersecurity,” and similar terms in the search box at the top of our blog.  

In this article, I discussed the growing trend and threat of cyberstalking, particularly between former lovers and/or couples. I presented some disturbing, real-life examples of unfortunate people who’ve been cyberstalked, and how it disrupted their lives. I also offered some suggestions on what you can do to protect yourself in advance should you and a former paramour break up, to prevent the chances of becoming victim of their Internet ire.

If you liked this article, share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, enter it in the Comment section below. I hope the information in this article was helpful.

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Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Maybe "VD" doesn't stand for Valentine's Day but for Violation Digitally.