Usually when we write about hacking on the Panda Security blog, we’re talking about organised criminals stealing data for profit. That is not the only reason that people break into computers though – hacktivists use cybercrime techniques to make political statements for instance.
But there’s another reason to be aware of – obsession.
Obsession becomes stalking
Sometimes a person will develop an obsessive interest in a specific individual. They will then track that person online, gathering as much personal information as they can.
These people may claim they are just “super fans” who want to know everything they can about their idol. Others may believe they are involved in a relationship with the other person – even if they have never met.
This obsession is actually a form of stalking – and because it takes place online, we call it “cyberstalking”.
Cyberstalkers can become hackers
Eventually obsessive stalkers will want more information about their victims, such as home address, telephone number and private pictures. When that data is not easily found online, some will try and break into accounts belonging to their victims.
Cyberstalkers use many of the same techniques as hackers. Infecting their victim’s phone or computer with malware allows them to steal data for instance. Once they have gained access, they will continue to access personal data for weeks or months – and the victim may never realise until their information is leaked online.
Cyberstalkers are different to trolls because they develop an emotional connection with their victims. Where trolls shock and offend people in general, stalkers typically target specific individuals, building a fantasy life to support a close personal relationship that doesn’t actually exist.
Unlike trolls, stalkers may attempt to contact – and threaten – their victims in real life.
Protecting yourself against cyberstalkers
The first thing to realise is that almost anyone can become a victim of a stalker; these people do not just target celebrities. Sometimes they are ex-boyfriends known to the victim, other times it may be a casual acquaintance. On rare occasions it may be that the stalker is just a random follower on social media.
If you have a stalker, or suspect you are being stalked you can protect yourself by:
- Using the blocking tools built into social media platforms to report and ban problematic accounts.
- Reporting personal threats, particularly rape and violence to your local police force.
- Using anti-malware to prevent viruses or trojans being installed on your computer, smartphone and tablet.
- Updating your passwords using these guidelines so that they cannot be easily guessed or broken.
Cyberstalking is extremely serious and you must tell someone if you suspect you are a victim. Do not hesitate to contact the police if you feel in danger.
And even if you’ve never been a victim, downloading anti-malware software will protect you in advance of the unwanted attentions of a cyberstalker.