Tech Safety for Survivors of Domestic Violence
When the topic of domestic violence is brought up, it oftentimes refers to the abuse of power and control and can come in many forms. Technology often plays a part in that abuse as it acts as a major tool for control and oppression. Those who survive from this abuse are not responsible for what they have suffered, but learning just how technology can be used against them gives them the upper hand as they can now take back control and be cautious to protect themselves.
Table of Content
In this guide, you will be given tips on how to make use of technology in a more secure way and have control over your online and digital presence. This guide is based entirely on technology-related forms of domestic abuse. If you believe you are being monitored, it is advisable that you exit this page and revisit it from a device the person or group of persons would have no control over like a public computer.
The Importance of Digital Security in Situations Related To Domestic Violence
Technology is an important part of our lives and has become more involved in what we do. We make use of it in our day to day communication with friends and family, to perform our work, manage our finances, and also to control our home appliances. The probability of having one device that is connected near us at all times is also high so technology is actually around us. It comes with its many benefits and digitizes our lives, but it also means that we could be monitored and stalked easily by individuals with bad intentions.
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Domestic violence has its unique challenges that other types of security guides may not cover and that is why this article tries to be specific. For example, it can be safe to assume at a point in time that your phone has not been tampered with. Reasons for this assumption could be because it is dangerous and expensive to hack into your devices even if the government is involved and that is partly because the hacker needs to have physical access to your device. But when it concerns domestic abuse, you cannot be completely sure that your hardware and devices have not been tampered with especially if you stay in the same home with your abuser as they can easily have the physical access they need.
Being able to say for sure that your devices have not been compromised and to have complete control over your online presence is important in having your digital autonomy.
How to Get Your Digital Autonomy Back
This guide is made for you if;
- You want to safely communicate with those you trust
- You suspect your computer and phone is being spied on
- You want to help increase the safety of someone suffering from technology-enabled domestic violence
- You are experiencing it yourself
With this guide, you will learn how to make use of technology to protect yourself from being monitored so you can continue to have a secure means of communication with those who are close to you.
#1 – Trust Your Device
To be able to use your device safely, it needs to be trustworthy. Your device could be anything from a phone, computer, your car, or even your television. To be sure that you can trust your device, you need to keep it hidden so that no one knows about it. This is obviously not going to be possible with some of your devices because of their size and because you will need to use it openly, like your car.
Also, some of your devices can easily be tweaked physically while it would be impossible to do the same for others. Take your car for instance. It would be easy to attach a GPS tracker to your car but it will be physically impossible to modify your iPhone and that is because your iPhone is in one piece and difficult to open. Besides, there is no free space inside it that could carry anything extra.
If you suspect that someone has tampered with your phone, look out for loose parts, missing screws, or scratches. If you are still in doubt, it is better to assume that the device isn’t safe and deal with it accordingly.
1 . How to Find Out If Your Phone Or Other Devices Has Been Bugged
There is no rock proof way of telling if your devices have been tampered with, or if someone has control over your devices and is using them against your own interest. There are some signs you can observe however to help in telling if something is wrong and those signs include:
- Your device acts differently from what it should be
- Your device has been taken away from you for some time
- Your abuser knows things about you that they shouldn’t, like who you have been texting, talking to, where you have been, and the emails you have received and also sent.
- Your abuser insists on your use of a particular device and forbids you from leaving it at home
- You get notifications that your accounts have been accessed from another device without your permission
2. Ensure That You Can Trust Your Phone
Smartphones come with features that offer you protection and security, but this security can be compromised if anyone has physical contact with your phone. If you have a good passcode set in your phone and you did this yourself, then you can safely assume that your phone is secure. But it didn’t set up your phone and its security by yourself, it is possible that your abuser may be using your phone against your interest. It is possible that they have spyware installed on your phone that gives them details about your location at all times. To bug your phone, they would need physical access, but it can be done in less than an hour. Rooting your phone takes away all the pre-installed security of your phone by the manufacturer and it leaves your phone vulnerable.
Rooting your phone will allow the installation of any software and it can run in the background, unseen by you and share your information with your abuser. It is not easy to know if your phone has been rooted or not. and what’s worse is that your abuser may not need to be tech-inclined as phone repairs and service shops offer to root as one of their services, so they can have this done easily.
a . Restore Your Phone to Factory Settings
If you are in doubt if your phone has been tampered with, restore your phone to its factory settings. Newer android and iPhone will be taken back to a reasonable state of integrity by this action, while some older phones will require flashing to get rid of any installed tracking software on your phone. Flashing your phone with a new android version is not just a regular process and it requires the skill of someone trained to do this.
After you have flashed or restored your phone to its factory settings, you should set up a strong password; one which is hard to guess isn’t being used anywhere else and has unique digits. It also enables device encryption. Even though it looks fancier and less stressful for you to gain access to your phone, do not make use of a fingerprint or face scanner to unlock your phone. This is because someone can gain access to your phone while you are asleep with those features. If you have a strong passcode and enabled encryption, you can be sure your device is safe.
3. Ensure That You Can Trust Your Computer
Just as is the case with your smartphone, if you set up your computer by yourself and enable the hard drive encryption, you can trust it more. Unlike with smartphones where you can gain control back by resetting, computers do not give you the option to reset to factory settings.
a. Watch for Keyloggers
Due to design, it is easier for your desktop to be tampered with than for your laptop to be tampered with. This is because of the external components like the mouse and it makes it easy for a keylogger to be attached to your device. A keylogger records all your keystrokes and allows whatever you have typed to be seen. Your privacy is at risk here as sensitive information like your passwords, address, and correspondence can be gotten.
To check for keyloggers, trace your keyboard cable to its connection with your computer and watch out for a device that is similar to a USB stick. It is usually placed between the cable and your computer and these types are easy to spot. Advanced forms of keyloggers are placed inside the computer and those types are not as easy to spot.
b. Go To the Library If You Are In Doubt
If you have any doubts about the safety of your computer or smartphone, you can find one that you can trust at the library. You can make copies of your documents and save them online from the computers at the library as those once obviously won’t have been tampered with.
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c. Gain A Bit of Trust in Your Computer
Even though there is nothing you can immediately do to make you have complete trust in your computer, there are a few things you can do to have your computer safe for your use. These tips are based on the chances that your attacker is not super tech and hasn’t installed sophisticated malware to keep you under their control.
- Store all your files on a USB and keep it in a safe place away from your computer. You can go further with securing your files by encrypting the USB and setting up a password.
- Make use of incognito when browsing so that your browser history will not be saved and your attacker will not know what you have been up to.
- When you create passwords, make them strong.
You can also have a copy of the Tor browser in your flash and use it to browse when you want to have top privacy.
4. Ensure That The Gadgets in Your Home Can Be Trusted
Other devices in your home can easily be targeted and used to get to you especially if they have features like cameras, microphones, or even motion sensors. Compared to your phones and computers, these other devices have poor security and so the best way to be safe is to say far from them if you need privacy for maybe a phone call.
5. Ensure That You Can Trust Your Car
Modifications made to your car by an abuser can be difficult to detect except you are an expert. It is a good move if you hire a car mechanic to sweep your car for bugs of any kind but that will cost you a bit of cash. It could also be dangerous if your attacker is monitoring your finances as the attacker will know something is up. It can be difficult to trust your car in the case of domestic violence where tech is involved, especially if your attacker has the upper hand by having good knowledge of your car and its license plate too. This information makes it easy for you to be tracked.
If you feel your car has been bugged and is used to monitor you, riding in someone else’s car will be a better option for you. You can also take the bus, taxi, or train. No matter the choice you make, ensure you pay with cash so as not to leave any financial trail.
#2 – How To Keep Your Files, Data, and Other Important Information Secure
1. Save Your Files to the Cloud
If you trust your device and have good security set up, then you can be sure that your data saved to that device is safe. Another way of ensuring that your files and data is safe is by storing them to the cloud. Cloud services like Dropbox and Spideroak are online data storage services that can save your files for you. Being stored in the cloud allows you to have access from any device, even if you lose your own device. Being stored in the cloud doesn’t mean that your files are perfectly safe so remember to make use of a strong password to protect your files.
2. Make Use of Two-Factor Authentication
To ensure the security of your files stored in the cloud, it is proper that you ensure sole access to your email, and also be sure that only you have the password. This will prevent unwanted access to your files at any time. If you have a device that you trust has not been tampered with, then you can make use of two-factor authentication to keep your abuser further away from having access to your files. If you do not trust your device, then do not make use of two-factor authentication.
If you are asked for a backup email or phone number, provide one that belongs to someone else that you trust rather than provide one of yours. You can print out backup codes with the use of some services like Google’s 2FA and you can use it if you lose access to your phone. If you make use of this service, make sure you store the backup codes in a safe place.
3. Make Use of Secret USB Sticks
If you do not trust your device but you need to store your files, making use of a secret USB stick will come in very handy. This device will keep your files safe as long as you do not drop it where it can easily be seen.
It is an even better option to store your files in USB sticks that have secret partitions. If one of the partitions were to get into the hands of your abuser and it is plugged in, it will only appear broken rather than give off your stored information. You can also make use of a free program like Veracrypt to encrypt your USB stick or create an encrypted hidden volume.
4. Have a Scanned Copy of Your Important Documents
Some documents you own are very important and to prevent losing them completely to your attacker, you need to make scanned copies and keep those in a safe place. Such documents include birth certificates, marriage certificates, your children’s documents, immigration papers, school certificates, visas, credit cards, insurance papers, driving license, medical records, police records, and also court fillings. If you lose these documents, you may find it difficult if you want to leave the country, drive a car, vote, work, or even receive medical treatment.
If you do not have a scanner at home or yours isn’t trusted, go to the library and get your documents scanned.
5. Secure Your Social Media Life
Just like you have made moves to keep your files stored in the cloud safe, you will also need to keep your social media accounts safe. You can do this with two-factor authentication, and also providing a secure email for logging in.
Your attacker may want to monitor you using your social media life, and so you should consider withdrawing permission to apps like those for location, and review the privacy settings of your accounts. Also, create new accounts using fake names and identities. The use of fake names is not always perfect because some platforms like Instagram and twitter may suggest your new and fake identity as a friend to the person you are avoiding and they do this based on your contacts, email, and other activities.
To further ensure that your privacy remains secure, avoid sharing sensitive information to people online.
#3 – How To Protect Your Communication from Surveillance
Communication with your friends and family is easily secure if your device is trusted. If you have a feeling that your device is compromised, then you will need extra precaution to ensure that all texts and calls between yourself and your friends stay private. The following are tips that will come in handy in ensuring that all communications remain secure if you have doubts about your phone:
1. Encrypt Your Chats
Encrypted communication channels provide more security over the unencrypted ones and so you should choose those. Apps like WhatsApp, telegram, and others like this have encryption features that make it impossible for your messages to be intercepted, and for anyone who takes over your account to read your previous chats.
Telegram provides you with useful features that ensure your privacy even if you want to reach out to someone for help. An example of such features is the self-destruct option for messages. This means that your messages will automatically be deleted after a set time and even if your account is being accessed, your messages won’t be seen. Telegram also associates your account with a username and a phone number. This is the same for all your contacts so you should try to memorize a few usernames so you can reach out to them if you don’t have your address book or access to your phone number. You have a set password that gives your account security and prevents unauthorized access to your account.
2. Beware Of Phone Metadata
The person who pays your phone bill can have access to a lot of information such as the numbers you call. More detailed information like when you made each call, how long it lasted, and sometimes your location when you made the call can be gotten too. If the attacker is close to you or your family, they can even get a lot more of your metadata from your phone company. They will be able to forward your incoming calls to any number of their choice so they could receive your calls and texts. This can allow them to receive messages for security verifications of your online accounts.
To ensure that your phone activity and other information are safe from than hands of an attacker, you can ask that your phone account be given a high-risk flag. You could also choose to make use of a prepaid SIM card that you recharge using cash payments and keep safe for your private use.
3. Protect Your Email
Protecting your email account follows the same process and mindset as your cloud storage protection. If you trust your phone and you are sure you alone have access to it, make use of two-factor authentication to keep your email more secure. Many email providers allow you to check your recent log in by checking your activity log. With this, you can know for sure if someone else is accessing your email. Your email is an important means of communication so endeavor to keep it secure so your privacy can remain.
#4 – Establishing Financial Independence
Your accuser may make use of your dependence on money to survive ti have then upper hand and gain control over you. If you want to be independent and have your life in your hands-free from external control, it will be necessary to have complete control over your own finances.
1 . Secure Your Bank Account
If you own a personal bank account in your name, then you have a way of being financially independent and you should try to keep it secure. You can give protection to your bank account by ensuring that it stays yours and bears your name. You can make some inquiries in the bank about the ease at which someone close, say a family member can take over your account. Having this knowledge will help you know how easy or difficult it will be for an attacker to have control over your account. The usual process involved in taking over your account will be to present a death certificate or letter from an attorney to the bank, and these documents are not easily forged. Raise the barrier to your account by asking that your account be given a high-risk flag.
2. Avoid Online Banking
You are more vulnerable to impersonation if you make use of online banking or mobile banking. This is because your computer or phone can easily be tampered with and your information was stolen. If you do not trust your phone or computer, contact your bank and ask that all access to your internet and mobile banking be disabled.
3. Hide Your Credit Cards
Credit card details can easily be stolen if you are not extra careful with it. You may have your credit card with you but it doesn’t mean someone isn’t making use of it. All your attacker needs to have access to your account are the numbers at the back and front of your card. With that information and the name on your card, your card can be canceled and once canceled, you can’t ‘uncancel’ your card.
If you make use of your credit card regularly, it can be hard to hide it. So what you do if you get charges that are fraudulent is to call your bank and hope that the charges can be reversed. It only works a few times and will have an effect on your credit score. To put an end to this, canceling your card and getting a new one will be better. This time, try keeping your card properly hidden and if you can’t, you may want to stay without a card completely.
4. Don’t Make Use of Joint Bank Accounts
If you make use of a joint account, the money there is not entirely yours. You may be able to make some withdrawals but you will be under some restrictions and your transactions are subject to review and other signatories can track your transactions. It takes away your privacy and can be dangerous for your security.
5. Have Your Own Bank Account
If you are being monitored and your old bank account is not secure anymore, you can open a new one and keep it secret from your abuser. An account will normally require proof of the address you provide, so try getting one like a utility bill from a relative or friend whom you trust. Once you have an account to your name and one which you can trust, you can deposit your savings there and also use the debit card linked to the account for your financial transactions.
6. Make Use of Cash and Other Assets
Even if you do not have your own account, you can still spend money and do other transactions without raising any alarm. The use of cash is one very great option to spend and still lay low but the only problem is that cash can be difficult to store in the long run.
Gold is also great to store especially if you do not intend to make use of it immediately. Gold of great value will not take up as much space as their value in cash and so you can save more without calling attention to yourself. It also doesn’t degrade with time and so you can save it for long. The ability of gold to be made into various forms makes it easy to distribute too.
If you must make use of online transactions, you should opt for the use of cryptocurrencies. With cryptocurrency, you can anonymously spend money online without a trace. The security of your cryptocurrency is better than that of your gold or cash as it is more difficult for you to lose them but you could easily get robbed and your gold or cash is stolen.
You can make use of bitcoin for almost every transaction you want to make. You can buy it with cash and you can use it to pay for services and goods, and you can also receive payments with it. Doing your transactions with bitcoin will keep you anonymous and none of the transactions will be captured in your bank statement.
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#5 – How To Use TAILS To Secure Your Computer Activity
TAILS is an acronym that stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System. It is an operating system just like windows and can run on any computer from a USB stick. You can keep your files secure, browse the web from your computer even if you do not trust it, and also store your bitcoin with TAILS.
TAILS also has its shortcomings, and an example is in the event that you lose your USB drive. All your files that were stored to TAILS will be lost so you have to be careful with it. You do not need to be tech-savvy to make use of TAILS as with just a little knowledge you can have access to a secure operating system even if you do not trust your computer.
1. Get A TAILS Stick
A TAILS stick looks like a regular USB stick but it has special software installed in it. The size of the stick can be very small because TAILS doesn’t require much space and this feature makes it easily hidden. It is not difficult to make a TAILS stick and configure it with a persistent volume, but you will need to have some technical knowledge nonetheless. If you feel you may not be able to create a TAILS stick by yourself, you can get help from the computer club at a neighboring school, or your local library.
2. Restart Your Computer
TAILS is compatible with almost every computer. To make use of TAILS, you need to restart your computer and then you will be instructed on which button to press. Following the instructions will guide you on what to do and you will be up and running.
3. Set a Password
The data you have on your TAILS stick will be protected from unauthorized access by a password, so you have to create a strong password that only you will know. Anyone who can crack this password will be able to see your data and also ben able to monitor you, so make sure your password is strong and known by you alone. Learn how to make a strong password here.
4. Make Use of the TAILS Stick
With TAILS you do not need to make use of your less secure and regular OS. TAILS comes with useful applications like a word processor, browser, spreadsheet, bitcoin wallet and many others that you may need for your digital life while maintaining a high level of privacy.
TAILS is good at ensuring that you stay private as you make use of your computer by blocking malicious software installed on your computer. It will however not protect you from physical attacks like keyloggers. Also, your TAILS stick can get missing or stolen and as long as you have a strong password set, you are fine.
The use of many technologically advanced devices has become a trend and its functions have undoubtedly helped to make life easier. Now you can call someone miles away with your phone and do more than that. You also have features that allow you access to the internet and let you do your daily tasks from your phone still. More and more data gets stored and inputted daily onto our devices and if these details were to get into the wrong hands, our lives would be controlled by an attacker in an act of domestic violence using tech. a lot can be done to help you stay safe in the case of an attack and you can even set yourself free from whatever your attacker has to hold you or control you by. In order to ensure that you are safe, always secure your phones with the use of a password, trust your computer, backup your data, have the means to communicate with your friends securely, and also have control over your finances. Technology is supposed to work for you and not against you and so with this guide, you should be able to turn things around.