Sanctuary for the Abused
Sunday, January 29, 2017
CYBERSTALKING IN THE 21st CENTURY - PART TWO
Access to your life a mouse click away
By Dave Breakenridge -- Sun Media
CALGARY -- With the advent of high-technology, stalking has become a greater threat than ever before. In our five-part series, the Sun Media's Dave Breakenridge looks at the scourge of stalking in the 21st Century.
It used to be stalkers would have to make personal efforts to get their targets' attention, leaving notes or keeping watch outside their homes.
But now, stalkers are getting their threats right into where their victims live -- volleys of love or hate, or both -- landing squarely and repeatedly in e-mail inboxes, websites, blogs about the victims & their families or instant message windows.
Two-thirds of Canadian homes have a computer, and nearly that many have at least one person using the Internet from work, home or school, making the computer an easy-to-access tool of terror.
These cases where a computer is used to torment are becoming more common, said Det. Brad Martin of the Calgary Police Service technological crimes unit.
"It now happens on a pretty regular basis where the Internet is used to harass, embarrass or make life difficult for people," he said.
"The most common stuff we see is e-mail, instant messages to cell phones, websites hosted with private pictures or personal information and registration at seedy websites in that person's name."As Canada becomes more plugged in, and computers are used more frequently for everything from keeping in touch to balancing the family books, increased computer use by all kinds of crooks is a natural evolution.
In the case of stalking, Martin said, that includes software originally designed as a safety tool for parents.
Things like spyware marketed for parents to monitor a child's computer use, can be used by a stalker to access information which could further the harassment.
"When they're used, the way they're designed to be used they have an important role in the use of computers," Martin said.
"But the dark side is always there and people are going to use good stuff for bad things."
Despite the perceived anonymity of the computer, Martin said cyberstalkers can be caught.
"The technology is there that whoever you are, your communication can be traced back to the sending computer," Martin said, adding the onus in most cyber-cases rests with the victim.Because they are the target of the communication, victims need to keep as much of it as they can to help build a strong case.
Technology has become so interwoven with criminality, Martin said his unit could have double its four current members and still have an overflowing case load -- adding half of his cases involve child pornography.
"When you're getting harassed with e-mails, don't reply, and save the e-mails -- if you reply you increase the problem and it sort of encourages the activity to continue," Martin said, adding if the behaviour continues, the police should be contacted. Saving the suspect e-mails is important because it gives the police evidence to work with, Martin said.
He also said Internet service providers are, for the most part, co-operative with law enforcement, some more than others.
While e-mail may be the most common electronic tool for stalkers, Edmonton-based Crown prosecutor Steven Bilodeau -- who specializes in cybercrime -- said there are myriad electronic means for a stalker to harass and torment his victim.
"Cyberstalking can take on whole other aspects ... it can be things like hijacking someone's e-mail password or going into a sex forum pretending to be that person," he said.Calgary police Det. Gordon Robertson said he's worked a number of cases where a computer was used as part of a pattern of controlling and intimidating behaviour.
One case sticks out in his mind as being particularly frightening for the victim.
Roughly a year after his marriage dissolved, a man went to his ex-wife's house while she was asleep and told his son he'd come over to get something he left at the house.
While there, he installed an insidious trojan program -- used to take remote control of the computer -- on his ex's PC.
The woman then started getting e-mails from her former hubby asking about the new guy she's been seeing -- with quotes lifted right from messages she'd sent friends.
"He'd been monitoring her e-mails and computer activity," Robertson said.
Whether it be data storage, communication, hacking, identity theft, or using the Internet to exploit children, Martin said the misuse of technology is just a natural, but unfortunate, evolution.
"The way that criminality is going is crooks are switched onto technology now
and they are using these communication devices more," Martin said.
"They know what's going on and they're not encumbered by the cost of things because they take the profit from their crimes and they invest it in that cost."