Cyberstalking and how to prevent harassment online
Cyberstalking is a form of stalking, which takes place online. Since it doesn’t involve physical contact, it triggers a misperception that it’s less dangerous than typical stalking. In our advanced digital world, cyberstalking is just as scary and, sometimes, even life-threatening. Let’s discuss what cyberstalking is, its tactics, threats, and how to protect yourself.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking stands for the use of technology, specifically the internet, to harass someone. Typical characteristics involve spying, threats, manipulation, false allegations, identity theft, or data destruction.
Usually, cyberstalking can take many forms, but the key factor is that it’s unwanted and often obsessive harassment. Stalkers use social media platforms, emails, instant messages, calls, and other communication means to stalk chosen victims. It can lead to sexual harassment, inappropriate contact, or just unhealthy interest in victims’ personal lives. Cyberstalking is common, with over 20,000 cases reported each year and as many as 500,000 victims annually.
Who is behind cyberstalking?
In many cases, victims know the perpetrators that perform repetitive harassment, intimidation, or slander. According to statistics, nearly 3 in 4 victims knew their stalkers to some extent. It could be an ex, a former friend, or someone who wants to bother you and your loved ones.
There are many psychological and social reasons behind cyberstalking. The perpetrators can be envious, unsatisfied with their lives, delusional, or have a pathological obsession. The intent is to intimidate, frighten, and make victims feel inferior. In some cases, vengeful past encounters might take revenge for real or delusional reasons, such as rejection. Other examples of cyberstalking, especially those involving celebrities or other high-profile individuals, might include strangers. Some stalkers suffer from mental health issues and believe their behavior is welcome.
Types of cyberstalking
There are many ways cyberstalkers go after victims. Here are some of the common techniques used:
- Information gathering & monitoring. Social media accounts contain a lot of personal data. People post about visited locations, workplace details, and plans. Hence, without extra digging, the perpetrator can gather data by looking at profiles and recognizing behavior patterns.
- Online scamming & catfishing. The stalker creates a fake identity to lure a victim into a relationship, usually a romantic one. The catfish often uses personal details, names, and photos of someone the victim would seem interested in.
- Installing spyware. Stalkers may trick victims into clicking on infected images, ads, or links that plant spyware on their devices. The malicious tool allows penetrators to monitor online activities and whereabouts, steal data, make audio recordings, and much more.
- Location check-ins & geotagging. The cyberstalking can easily turn physical when the perpetrator appears in a location shared by the victim. Then there’s geotagging. It refers to small pieces of location-disclosing metadata attached to each digital image. Stalkers may obtain precise whereabouts with specific tools that extract information from geotags.
How to prevent cyberstalking?
- Google yourself. Chances are, the amount of publicly available information will surprise you. Log into old accounts and take confidential information down. If personal details reside on pages you can’t control, contact sites’ owners and ask them to remove it.
- Don’t overshare. The best measure against cyberstalking is to limit the information you put online. You should avoid posting personal details, like physical addresses and phone numbers. Be vigilant about revealing real-time data: where you are and whom you’re with.
- Disable geotagging and location tag features when uploading photos. As much as you love to share your surroundings, you’re making it too easy for stalkers to track you.
- Practice digital hygiene. Adjust privacy settings on your social media accounts. Set who can see your profile, comment on your posts, and photos. Always think twice before accepting a friend request from a person you don’t know.
- Learn about cyber threats and scams, including common social engineering tricks to prevent clicking on malicious links or files.
- Use antivirus software to secure your device from malware, spyware, and other intrusive applications.
- Set 2FA wherever possible. In case someone gets ahold of your account credentials, they won’t be able to access it without your consent.
- Secure online traffic with a VPN. Cyberstalking can occur due to obsessive individuals going that extra mile to get your data. Even if you are careful about posting personal details online, stalkers can find other means. For instance, your IP address reveals a lot about you. If you operate under a nickname, malicious individuals can extract your IP address to determine your identity. For this reason, use a VPN. Atlas VPN guarantees anonymity online and prevents potential perpetrators from stalking you online.
Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.