Cyber Security and Your Online Life when Separating
If you are going through a separation, it is particularly important to be extra vigilant about the way you live your life online. It is widely reported that fraudsters have successfully accessed a great deal of personal and financial information through social engineering and data breaches, but have you considered that a former partner could potentially access the same personal and financial information about you?
Cyber crime can have a devastating impact on victims. So what can you do to avoid your personal and financial data being accessed by an ex-partner? Here are some useful tips on how to minimise this risk during a separation or family related problem.
For most of us, our email account is our most important online account. We rely on it to communicate personally, administratively and professionally, including for legal correspondence. We suggest you:
Ensure no one but you can read your emails, and that you remove your email account from any device you will no longer have access to, or which has shared access with an ex-partner.
Consider creating a new email account specifically for your legal correspondence.
Install two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever this service is available. Email providers such as Gmail, as well as apps used by banks, retailers and social media sites, all offer this feature which sends a text code to your phone to further authenticate you when you log in.
On separation, you should consider that all your passwords could be compromised and should be changed immediately on every account and app. Ensure you use complex passwords for each of your online accounts, especially your email, and never use the same password for more than one account. When you change or reset passwords, the link is usually sent to the email address, and that would be no use if your ex-partner still has access to this account.
Your ex-partner might know the answers to your security questions used to reset passwords. Consider resetting these to something your ex-partner will not know.
Removing yourself (or your ex-partner) from devices or products that talk to each other
Most of us have at least one mobile device and conduct a large part of our lives online. These devices allow you to set up an account which automatically backs up and synchronises your data across multiple devices. Accounts can be shared between family members or can be set to control children’s accounts, including access to and paying for apps and downloads. In some cases, this ease of use can become a way for an ex-partner to track areas of a person’s life they no longer wish to share. We recommend you consider disconnecting from iCloud (or similar) accounts which share onto other devices.
Another way a security breach can occur is when a child is handed a device to play online games. The child could inadvertently access emails or read personal messages sent to a connected device that pop up on screen without the need for a password.
Accessing your ex-partner’s emails or logging into any of their accounts
You must not access your ex-partner’s email or other accounts. Even if they gave you log in details, the implied authority to access their accounts is assumed to be withdrawn when your relationship ends or is in difficulties. You may be committing a criminal offence by attempting to access their accounts.
Virtually every smartphone and tablet now come with a high quality camera and many of us use these cameras to record happy moments. If you have photo backups or photo sharing set up, your pictures may be viewed by somebody you no longer wish to share them with. Photo synchronisation should be switched off in any apps you are registered with, as well as any devices you own.
Intimate private photos or videos
You or your ex-partner may have private photos or videos of each other. It is a criminal offence to disclose a private intimate photo or film without the consent of the subject, in order to cause that individual distress (the worst cases of ‘Revenge Porn’ can carry a prison sentence of up to two years). Be aware that you may inadvertently synchronise these types of photos to a device used by others, thereby making them visible.
Texts sent and received on certain manufacturers’ handsets will be synchronised with the messages app on other linked devices, thereby making them visible to people who have access to that device if the account is set to auto login. This can sometimes be a way for ex-partners to access each other’s messages long after they have separated.
Social media and instant message services
Consider how much you ‘share’ with people online. Posts and photos on social media sites such as Facebook, and instant message services such as WhatsApp, emails and text messages can all be recorded, saved and used as evidence. Using text to vent frustrations or emotions during the heat of the moment should be avoided.
Most mobile devices offer a GPS function, and locational data could be used by an ex-partner to check on another’s whereabouts. We recommend you consider turning off location services on your smartphone.
If you own a car which provides an app that can connect your smartphone to your car, and your ex-partner has the same app installed on their smartphone from when you had shared use of the car, then details of your driving trips and where your car is parked etc. may be capable of being viewed by your ex-partner. The app might need to be reset to suit your new family arrangements.
Online finance and subscription services Bank accounts
Much banking is done online these days. Consider ensuring you protect your finances while continuing to run the family home by restricting transactions on accounts and removing unnecessary authorised users. You may need to maintain a joint account during the proceedings, but consider keeping funds held in it to a minimum.
Be careful with what you post online. Anyone can be targeted by cyber criminals, particularly if they have recently separated and are looking to buy a new home. This is becoming a really common threat for homebuyers with the increased risk of using email to send personal information to a solicitor. There are numerous reported cases of scammers sending victims false bank details which appear to have been sent directly by their solicitor. If in doubt, always call any relevant party directly to confirm whether an email is genuine.
Many people have credit cards with a second card on the account which may be used by an ex-partner. These should be cancelled after consultation where appropriate and login details changed. Also, remember that if the card details are stored in online accounts, an ex-partner may be able to access your debit and credit cards to be able to make further purchases. We recommend removing debit and credit cards registered against shared accounts and consider cancelling your current cards.
If your ex-partner knows the login details to a PayPal account, and the linked bank account is yours, then they may be able to draw out money via this facility. Such accounts may need to be reset to suit your new family arrangements.
Amazon, Ocado and other online retailers
Families often share one Amazon account and can arrange for items to be delivered to multiple addresses. If it is your bank account registered to the Amazon account then you could be paying for goods that other people are ordering. Likewise, an ex-partner might be able to view your orders without you realising. These types of accounts may need to be reset to suit your new family arrangements.
Subscriptions, including Netflix and Spotify
Families who have shared accounts with these types of services can have multiple devices linked to the subscription(s). Netflix and Spotify all collect data about your usage which could be viewed by an ex-partner. If you are the account holder, consider resetting your login details and remove any unwanted devices from the account(s).
Music, films or electronic books purchased online will be owned by the account registered with the service. This may be an account that was shared during the relationship, but one partner may not want the other to have ongoing access. However, providers such as Apple Music do not usually allow the transfer of purchases between accounts. If you are affected by this issue, let your solicitor know as they need to consider this asset as part of the resolution of finances.
If you are staying in the family home and your ex-partner handled all the bills, you may need to transfer the accounts into your sole name.
Beginning your new life with a good plan in place
Whether it is business or personal, when any partnership breaks down, it is important to protect data and focus on online security. Regularly changing passwords, using VPN when on public WiFi, and never leaving smartphones unlocked when unattended are simple measures which we recommend for everyone using a mobile device.
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"Thank you for your work on my divorce. I found your approach professional and efficient, and felt you treated me with kindness and respect, which I appreciated."
Ms C, Family Law. January 2017