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Cyberstalking, Spyware and Privacy Protection

Know the Tools Cybercriminals Use to Access Your Information

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Anonymous teenager in mask on internet at night
[Peter Dazeley]/[Stone]/[Getty Images]
Updated April 22, 2014
This is fifth in a series of articles on women and cyberstalking written for About.com by cyberstalking expert Alexis A. Moore, founder of the national advocacy group Survivors in Action.

There are so few people who understand how to stop a cyberstalker and repair the damage. Thousands become victims every year, and each of us is vulnerable. I know this firsthand because I was once a victim of cyberstalking. It took me years to recover my life and get my credit in order. Ever since then, my goal has been to shake people up and instill enough awareness of cyberstalking to get everyone to take protective and preventative steps both on and offline.

Cyberstalking CAN Happen To You

When I tell my story, people tend react as they do to any "true crime" story -- it's scary and terrifying, but they truly believe it'll never happen to them.

Think again. It can happen to you and here are some of the reasons:

  • Our global society's overreliance on technology
  • The increasing affordability of technology and its ease of use (virus software that used to be in the thousands is now less than a hundred dollars to purchase)
  • The remote distance and anonymity technology provides to give cover to those who would hesitate to do something more traceable
  • Not to mention the lack of enforceable laws – or even laws that address the problem period - to protect people
For all these reasons there has been a rapid rise in cyberstalking incidents. We are all vulnerable.

The New Wild West Is Online

Here are some other famous people who have been hacked and harassed in the last year: Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly, Miley Cyrus. While it isn't surprising that a celebrity might draw more ire or attention, they represent our collective vulnerability. Despite the familiarity and ease we feel while using the Internet, it is still a technological frontier town. The internet is only just coming out of its infancy and in many ways as unprotected as the Western one of our past. Lawmakers and consumers can't keep up with the swift leaps in accessible technology to know what is truly possible and what isn't.

Privacy protection programs for consumers including victims of crime are inadequate. Often police can't make an arrest because there is no evidence of a crime being committed. Over and over I've heard about victims being treated like idiots by law enforcement. I've been there, trying to explain what happened on my computer and why it's important, and meanwhile the cop taking my report pats me on the head and tells me to go home. With no smoking gun, it's only your word that a crime happened at all.

Cyberstalkers don't have to be super-hackers or have superior intelligence to achieve their goals. A quick search on the internet can reveal various cyberstalker tool kits making it easy for cyberstalkers to wreak havoc with little or no effort.

Tools of the Trade

Take keylogging spyware for example. Keylogging spyware can be purchased online which provides a cyberstalker with detailed instructions explaining how to disguise the spyware as an innocuous file, such as a photo, attached to an email to send out to an unsuspecting victim. When you click on the disguised file thinking you're going to see a photograph of kittens in a basket, the keylogger spyware is silently installed in the background without your knowledge. This spyware records every keystroke typed on the victim's computer.

Think about that…your passwords, captured images on your computer screen and tracking all the websites you visit (including your credit card information if you log it in anywhere). To access the information, RemoteSpy clients would log into a website maintained by the online keylogging spyware company.

Sounds far-fetched, but millions of people have been victimized by this spyware and probably don't even know it. At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. District Court has issued a temporary restraining order halting the sale of keylogger spyware. According to the FTC's complaint, the Florida-based CyberSpy Software, LLC marketed and sold RemoteSpy keylogger spyware to clients who would then secretly monitor unsuspecting consumers' computers.

And yet in law terms a "complaint" is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law. Another website selling key logging spyware will surely (if not already) pop up and continue to sell the keylogging spyware under another name.

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