Tech abuse: misuse of digital devices

Valkyrie tech abuse misuse of tech
Valkyrie tech abuse misuse of tech

Valkyrie is passionate about assisting clients with their security needs and noticed something we try to combat against is on the rise – ‘tech abuse.’ While technology has become an essential part of living a convenient and connected life, with it has come a substantial increase in the use of tech-facilitated abuse in relationships — and the need for robust cyber security. According to the WHO, intimate partner violence is an international crisis that significantly impacts people’s health, well-being, and safety.

Only last week, a cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee report titled ‘Connected tech – smart or sinister?’ warned that tech abuse problems caused by ‘smart tech’ such as controlling and coercive behaviour, are likely to become ‘even more prevalent in the future’ as intelligent home systems become more widespread. Home security cameras, smart speakers and digital baby monitors all have the potential to be used against victims.

Data from domestic abuse charity Refuge indicates more than a quarter of women aged between 16-74 in England/Wales experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives and, of the women and children it supported in the year 2020-21, 59% experienced tech abuse — that is, abuse involving technology. Technology is being ‘weaponised’ and used against vulnerable people, mainly women. Although Valkyrie has been a keen advocate of raising awareness of the misuse of technology, we still need to learn how technology can be used and how to protect ourselves.

A case that one of our investigators worked on recently and prompted this post identified that misconfigured devices were accessing our client’s data. The husband, who was going through a divorce with our client, set up these devices for our client as she wasn’t ‘tech-savvy.’ These were standard devices such as mobile devices and tablets. These devices had access to all the data stored within the iCloud account and to emails, which the husband set up; however, when the relationship turned sour, the data was still accessible by devices in the husband’s possession.

Valkyrie works with several charities to assist victims of tech abuse, whether it’s a security review of the premises, a check on the device configuration or a check to see if the vehicle is being tracked, and time and again, we are witnessing vulnerable people being targeted using technology as a weapon.

Raising awareness is one way to combat this threat; however, can the technology industry do more? New laws are planned next year to bolster cybersecurity standards across devices, protecting individual privacy and security, and the Online Safety Bill will become law in a matter of months, but can more and should more be done?

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