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Family Law

Digital abuse – is your ex digitally spying on you?

By June 15, 2016No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

UPDATE:

We have spoken with the mother in this case in order to try to substantiate her ex-husband’s claim to media that he was able to read her emails and was aware all along of the 60 Minutes plan.  She tells us that his claim is “a lie”.  She says that while it is true that she had an old Hotmail account linked to the family iPad, it was not the email account she used in connection with her plans to regain her children. For the purpose of communicating with the 60 Minutes team, she says she had established a completely new Gmail account, of which he would have been unaware (unless he had gone to the trouble of installing spyware or similar on her devices when he had the opportunity…).

She tells us she feels he made this claim to media in order to make himself look better, more powerful, perhaps; and probably also to make her feel vulnerable and under his control from afar.

But, she says, she knew her old Hotmail account was still visible to him, and therefore didn’t use it. “I’m not a dumb person,” she says. As we’ve noted above, though, unfortunately intelligence isn’t always part of the equation, when exes use secretive and devious methods to track their former partners.

ORIGINAL BLOG published 8 June 2016:

The traumatic outcome of the highly publicised recent international custody dispute involving TV show 60 Minutes has drawn attention to the issue of digital abuse, given it was reported that the mother’s ex-partner was aware of her intentions through having access to her emails on the family iPad which was in his possession. Although it has not been made clear exactly how the father in this case was able to digitally track the mother, it’s clear the mother was unaware that he was able to view her private emails.

“Digital abuse” is the term given to the way abusive ex-partners use technology to track the movements, communications and behaviours of their ex-partners. Spyware can be deliberately installed on devices and computers enabling ex-partners to pinpoint their ex’s precise location in real time, to listen and record calls and even, frighteningly, to watch them via webcams or smartphone cameras. Apps can be installed that mirror a person’s phone’s contents onto a remote PC and increasingly, access to cloud accounts is proving a fruitful method of tracking ex-partners, even through something as apparently harmless as a child’s iPod device. Cloud accounts also enable abusers to install spyware remotely, from where they can easily observe when passwords are changed. These days, it just isn’t enough to use strong, unmemorable passwords or to install antivirus software that claims to include anti-spyware protection.

So what else can you do to ensure an ex-partner is not tracking you through your digital footprint? If you have left an abusive partner and feel vulnerable, there are some precautionary measures you can take. We’ve briefly listed several below, but for peace of mind, please visit the site www.digital-trust.org where you will find a wealth of useful information on the issue of digital abuse.

Some measures you can take if you feel vulnerable:

  • Have your devices and computers professionally cleaned
  • Buy a new, cheap, pay-as-you-go smartphone to use
  • Always switch off all location services on your devices
  • If you are concerned your ex-partner has unauthorised access to your email, or your inbox is being monitored, check the support and security pages for your email service.

For example, Gmail’s help centre describes how you can check your “Last Account Activity” to discover any recent activity in your account. It will show you any time your mail was accessed using web browsers, mobile devices, third party applications, and so on, and lists the IP address that accessed your email, the associated location, time and date. IP addresses can sometimes be unfamiliar, for example mobile gateways can be in a geographic location far from where you are accessing your account. However, the IP address will still need to belong to your service provider, and it is possible to check whether the access is legitimate by looking up the ISP that owns and leases a particular IP address, using a free IP reverse search service such as http://ip-lookup.net/.

If you have any concerns about breaches, “Sign out of all other sessions” and take further security action.

See the Gmail security checklist for more tips to secure your account.

  • Ensure privacy and security settings are at their highest on your social media accounts

For example, Facebook users should familiarise themselves with its security features in account settings. Use the Security Checkup feature to review and add more security to your account. Turn on Login Alerts, which notify you when someone tries logging into your account from a new place, and save trusted devices and browsers to a list.  Check your Active Sessions and ensure you log out of unfamiliar or unused browsers and apps, and any mobile or tablet devices you no longer physically have.

  • Check your smartphone for spyware and backdoor apps that piggyback your GPS service.

Smartphones can be tracked and monitored through spyware. If your phone is being tapped it is recording your activities and transmitting them to a third party which leaves a digital footprint in the form of increased battery usage, unusual phone activity (such as noises or screens lighting up) or the battery being warm when you aren’t using the device. Phones may take a long time to shut down, a sign of the device completing tasks (like secretly transmitting data) before it can shut down.

You can check for spy software on your android phone by looking in “Settings”, “Applications”, “Manage Applications” or “Running Services” to spot suspicious looking files. Sometimes cheaper spy apps don’t adequately disguise files and actually include terms like “spy” “monitor” “stealth” etc in the file name.

You can also install an app such as AppNotifier on android phones, which emails you when new programs are loaded and can give you a heads-up on attempts to install malware.

iPhones are generally more difficult to install spyware on but can have their vulnerabilities too. If you find software on your iPhone that you don’t remember downloading you should check the Apple store to see if it’s available there—if not, it’s likely your phone to be unauthorised external software. And always make sure you have the latest OS version via iTunes to ensure you don’t have any non-Apple software installed.

Factory resets on both kinds of devices will remove spy software but don’t forget to back up your personal data first.

  • Finally, if you are concerned that you may be a victim of digital abuse by your ex-partner and are in need of legal assistance, make sure you engage a lawyer that understands exactly how technology is being used by abusive ex-partners, to help protect clients from partners who may be attempting to use technology to stalk, intimidate or harass them.

To discuss any assistance you may need with a family law matter, particularly if you have come out of an abusive relationship, please contact Cristina Huesch here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400 for compassionate, supportive advice. Your initial conference is free and without obligation, so please get in touch as soon as possible.

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