On my way to a client site, I was listening with interest to a report on Radio 4 discussing a news article covering the rise of offences against women, including offences associated with the cowardly utilisation of the Internet to target, stalk, and to impose mental anguish and misery on the intended target of abuse. However, to maintain the correct balance, we should not forget that whilst it may be to some lesser extent, such despicable offences are also leveraged against the male populace.
Historically, the elements of physical abuse have been with societies since the year dot, with the cyber element being introduced as a dark-side-element of the Internet – an element which is enjoying a rise in usage. When we top-load this problem with input from the cases of abuse committed around the Rotherham area, implicating an unknown number of female victims, with in excess of 300 males being the subjects of police investigation, one may only conclude that here, yet again the Internet was employed for an evil purpose to reach, communicate, and to groom the selected targets.
To date, the way such cyber threats, and cyber stalking have been dealt with have been sadly lacking, and have not been that well understood by law enforcement as a real-crime. In fact, where there have been occasions in which the cyber-injured parties have attempted to report such hostilities to their local police station, they were simply not followed up on or recorded as a crime.
My first encounter with online abuse was in 2000 while attending Black Hat/Defcon in Las Vegas when I met up with two FBI Officers. These guys were very much on the ball way back then, and were involved in a number of operations – one of which was called “Operation Julie”. Operation Julie was all about a 50+ male who was misrepresenting himself in chat rooms and forums as a young person who was seeking likeminded adolescents – here he clearly talked-the-talk on line, but with other intentions way beyond those of mutual friendship and innocent interest.
However unknown to the aggressor, he was under surveillance of the FBI, and at the point the move was made to arrange a physical meet, there were more joining the party than our misrepresented perpetrator had expected. One young lady was then saved from falling into the trap of an abuser – he was left feeling the grip of the hand of law enforcement.
Shortly after my meeting with the guys from the FBI, I found myself involved in a case of online stalking/abuse in 2001. In this case, the abuser was a male who was in the employment of a Nottingham-based credit reference agency. In this case, our man had just broken up with his partner. The parting had not been amicable, and so the male of the past relationship decided to vent his anger over the Internet thorough multiple abusive and threatening emails.
The result of this offence was engagement of the Nottinghamshire police serving, what was then, an Anton Piller Order, which provides the right to search premises and seize evidence without prior warning – thus preserving destruction of relevant artifacts and evidence, in this case, represented by the resident emails. However, you may have noticed that this did not include any other forms of storage, such as the Exchange Servers – these were later interrogated to seek out those remote objects and artifacts of interest.
It’s an Endemic Problem of the Age
To further make the case, please allow me use the words of Jennifer Perry the CEO of Digital-Trust, who is recognised as a credible expert in this niche field. Perry says:
“Today, we lead digital lives. We use mobiles, social media, email, shop online and much more. So, if someone wants to upset, scare or intimidate us they will use technology to do it. Digital abuse includes: Bullying, Harassment, Stalking, Domestic Abuse, Trolling, Revenge and Hate Campaigns. . .We are here to help you be safer. Digital-Trust brings together technologists and professionals who understand about abuse and the criminal justice system. Together, we can help you understand digital risks and what to do about it.”
According to statistics from the CPS, we are also seeing an escalation in the number of cases involving offences against woman, with 2014 seeing a rise of almost 22 percent, along with 10,535 people in England and Wales being prosecuted for stalking and harassment, compared to 8,648 people in 2012/13. The number of restraining orders issued also saw a big jump – and this may only be the tip of the abusive iceberg.
First Responder Self Help Kit
Like all crimes, it is essential that upon encountering an event and as far as it is practicable, a contemporaneous record is compiled of the facts, acts and communications of the assailant. So, to start the Personal First Responder (PFR) Process, consider the following:
- Never respond.
- Note the date, time and location at which the event occurred.
- If any accompanying phone calls are received, make a note of the date, time and number, if shown. Note any comments/conversation (try not to respond).
- If any text message(s) are received, apply the same rule as above, and ensure, no matter how offensive or upsetting the text are – DO NOT DELETE THEM.
- Where the medium allows, save an image by taking a screenshot of your screen.
- Create a folder, and save files to that location with a naming convention of date-time-protocol. For example: 250615-1107-Twitter or 250615-1107-Facebook. This will ensure that even if the online media is deleted, you have retained an image/copy.
- If any emails are received, copy them to the designated folder – if attachments are associated, DO NOT OPEN, but again, assure they are saved as an evidential artifact.
- If an email contains any links or URL, DO NOT OPEN.
- Copy all files and images onto a new (clean) USB Stick, or onto a CD.
- Make a duplicate copy of the extracted image and put it in a safe place.
- Write out a Statement of Witness (SoW) whilst the events are fresh in memory – say starting with “On (date) at (time) I (name). . .” and record the events. Note: The sooner this is done, the more value it has in respect of its evidential weighting.
- At this stage, I advise you contact a body like the Digital-Trust, as soon as is practicable.
- If you are at work, this case should also be reported to the HR and Security Departments.
- Report to the local police, and hand over the evidence (ensuring that you retain a copy).
- Last but not least, If any associated or repeat communications are received – apply the above and place them in your Case File Folder as a codicil – and again, share these with the police.
The aforementioned actions may not look like much at first glance, but they will help the police and the investigation, and assure that you have a trail-of-evidence, and supporting materials to offer forward in support of, and to evidence your case – which will provision a much increased potential of a successful outcome, and hopefully a prosecution.
Remember, just because it’s on the Internet, the rules of law still apply, and so by rejecting such unsocial, unacceptable, and abusive behaviours, with a little effort we may all work as one and fight these bullies and criminals and scum on their own turf.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.
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