Digital Domestic Abuse Advice
For Organisations Supporting Domestic Abuse Victims
We want to make sure that domestic abuse victims receive the most accurate and up to date advice to help protect their online accounts and devices from further abuse and stalking both inside and outside of their abusive relationship. This guidance has been based on the training package we deliver to organisations and charities that help domestic abuse victims on a daily basis.
Build Your Understanding
During the Relationship
If the victim is still in a relationship, you need to be aware that the perpetrator could be monitoring their online accounts and devices so any advice needs to be delivered in a safe environment. You need to make sure that if you fill out the device and account checklist with the victim, they do not save the document on a device that the perpetrator has access to.
Any cyber security measures put in place whilst the victim is still in the relationship may result in an escalation of abuse and as such need to be implemented in a way that will safeguard the victim.
Outside of the Relationship
If the victim is now out of the relationship, perpetrators may exploit digital technology to continue to exert control over the victim. However, if the victim is no longer living with or in contact with their abuser, there is a reduced risk of direct harm if the victim implements strong cyber security measures.
If any person is at risk of immediate harm, always contact the Police on 999
All online accounts need to be secured with a strong password. If there is a risk that the abuser can access or guess their passwords, they need to be changed as soon as possible. The victim can create a strong, memorable password by creating a passphrase using 3 random words. They can then use special characters and numbers to make it stronger, see the example below.
LondonBeachMusic > 5LondonBeachMusic9@
If they struggle to remember lots of passwords, they can consider using a password manager, where you can keep all of your passwords in one place. If the victim does want to use a password manager it is worth searching online for the best password managers on the market and decide whether they would like a free or paid for version.
Cloud/ Shared Accounts
Online accounts should not be shared if possible as this will give the abuser access to all of the victim’s data on that account, which can be misused. There is also the risk that the abuser could log the other party out of their accounts and restrict access. This also risks losing any important documents or photos stored in the cloud.
You can remove any associated accounts and devices of the abuser from the account, or create a new account and move all content across to that new account. It may also be worth the victim investing in a USB stick that they can conceal easily to keep all of their most important documents and photos on, in case there is a risk of the perpetrator deleting everything. This USB must be safely stored as losing it could expose personal data.
Online bank accounts are an important online account where perpetrators can exert financial control by accessing the victim’s bank account from their devices and monitoring transactions. Victims can contact their bank for help in ending all active online sessions as well as resetting their password and 2FA. This will prevent the abuser from accessing their accounts.
For a victim still in the relationship, this may be more difficult to achieve. Another option would be to have two separate bank accounts, one for bills and one for everyday spending, where they could subtly limit access to one of the accounts and minimise the risk of being locked out of all finances. The other thing to be wary of is whether an abuser could use social engineering tactics to gain access to the victim’s account by tricking bank staff into handing over information. Some banks have the ability to flag an account where this may be a risk, and the victim should speak with a member of bank staff in confidence if they are concerned this may happen.
This is a big topic and one of the most important areas in which victims should enhance their security. This is particularly true for younger victims who are more likely to spend more of their time online and have a greater presence on social media. Victims should still be able to safely use social media provided they have taken steps to protect their accounts to minimise the possibility their perpetrators can access their account and/or be able to contact them/ find their location.
To secure their social media accounts, the first step is ensuring they have a strong password and 2FA on all accounts. The vast majority of social media services offer 2FA which is a crucial extra step that would stop the majority of social media account takeovers.
Settings need to be reviewed to ensure accounts are not giving away any unnecessary personal information. Strong privacy settings are crucial. Settings should be checked to see what devices are logged into their accounts or are ‘trusted’ devices, with any old or unknown devices being removed. If a victim’s social media accounts are compromised there is always the option to delete all accounts and create a new profile under an alias name, linking it to a new non-identifiable email account.
For victims who do not have a social media presence it may be worth setting one up as a defensive measure. They can set one up using a strong password, 2FA, add key friends and minimal personal information, turning off all notifications. This will prevent a perpetrator creating a false account in their name to befriend friends and family and try and elicit information, such as the victim’s location. The victim’s friends and family will already know their legitimate account, even if in an alias.
There are a number of resources to educate children on the safe use of social media:
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 Section 33 outlines the offence of Revenge Porn: disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 extends this offence to include threatening to disclose such images. If the victim has been a victim of Revenge Porn they need to report it on 101 or online if they have not done so already. They should also report it to the social media provider to get the post/photos taken down. In particular, Facebook and Instagram have a portal where you can report it called ‘Not Without My Consent‘. Or you can direct the victim to the Revenge Porn Helpline for further advice and guidance.
WiFi: Home Routers and Public WiFi
Home routers are generally secure, but in order to secure them further it is recommended that you change the default password to a stronger password using the 3 random word rule. This is particularly important for a victim to do once outside the relationship, as the perpetrator may have established the ability to remotely connect to the home network. Sometimes a factory reset first is the best option to ensure the strong default rules are in place, but they should consider that this may stop some other devices inside the network from offering full functionality (such as being able to view home CCTV while out and about) without further steps.
Public WiFi may be free but it is usually insecure and may be unencrypted, leaving your personal data vulnerable for cybercriminals to steal. It is recommended when you connect to public WiFi that you avoid accessing social media and your online banking or anything that involves putting in login data to avoid having your credentials stolen. If you do want to use public WiFi, you can download a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which hides your IP address and protects your data from being stolen. A VPN app and service should be chosen based on researching quality services with good reviews, rather than on cost alone.
It is always going to be safer using a 3G or 4G connection, when not connected to your home WiFi, as your data is automatically encrypted between your device and the mobile phone mast.
Browsing the Web
If a victim is concerned about their internet browser history and whether that could be used against them, there are options where they can browse the web safely. Victims can always delete their internet history across their devices. They can also use the private browsing feature in their web browser that will allow them to search the web freely without automatically saving the search history on the device. You can also download private browsing apps that wipe your search history after every use. However, there is always the risk inside the relationship that if the perpetrator is aware the victim is searching online and cannot find any online search history, this may make them agitated. To avoid this they can add a few searches on the clear web searching side so not to arouse suspicion.
Web Browser extensions: there is a possibility that a perpetrator could have added web browser extensions, which can be set up to capture data and monitor activity on that web browser on that device. You can check whether browser extensions have been set up in their browser settings and delete them accordingly. If there are any browser extensions that need removing, it is recommended that they change their passwords as the abuser may have already captured their current passwords.