As Internet users, we’re always trying to find better ways of maintaining online privacy and security in the face of attempted breaches by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), government intelligence agencies and criminal hackers. For some users, such as activists and journalists, maintaining online privacy and security is crucial to preserving their liberty and freedom, meaning infiltration can have severe ramifications.
The effects of domestic abuse and violence are extensive and typically life-changing for victims, which are usually women and children. Vulnerable people who live in an environment characterized by abuse are in a precarious situation because the atmosphere is usually anxiety-inducing. Domestic violence might impair the ability of women to nurture children. And children, whether they are witnesses or victims, might withdraw from their parents, which could lead to the distortion or delay of their development, as well as emotional problems.
Some of the adverse emotions and behaviors that victims (especially children) of domestic abuse and violence may exhibit include:
- Attempted suicide
- Violence in response to threats at home or in school
- Eating disorders
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Anxiety and depression
- Self-abuse (cutting)
- Impaired social skills
- Likelihood of entering abusive relationships later in life
Escaping domestic violence and abuse
Online threats are not always external. For victims of domestic abuse and violence, the source of the threat shares a home with them. It is, therefore, imperative that they take steps to maintain their online privacy and security as part of surviving the abuse and ultimately escaping their abusers. For them to find freedom, they need information, resources, and confidence.
Below are some of the measures one can take to get away from the abuse.
- Enable private browsing mode while online. Almost every browser has an ‘incognito’ or private browsing mode. Use this mode when you want to search for information that you don’t want the abuser to see.
- Review your browsing history and edit it. Needless to say, erasing your browsing history may arouse suspicion in the abuser. Therefore, rather than completely deleting it, remove the websites that may cause trouble and leave the rest. This guide is particularly useful for domestic abuse victims.
- Use a VPN. Even though VPNs are typically used to protect yourself against external threats, you can also use one to encrypt and cloak your traffic from others on your local network. This is useful if the abuser monitors your Internet activity using the router. Make sure you use a VPN that offers DNS leak protection and a kill switch for maximum security.
- Develop a safety plan, and hide it well. In many cases, guides for domestic abuse victims have a safety plan that they can print out, complete and store somewhere safe. However, a physical safety plan can be found by an abuser and may be difficult to retrieve in the event of a crisis. It’s, therefore, advisable to complete it electronically and send it to a secure email address the abuser does not know about.
In addition to the above practices, here are some tips for making sure that your devices and home appliances are secure.
- Format your device and restore it to factory settings
This is especially important in case your abuser knows your passwords, has had access to your phone, and can easily guess the answers to your password reset questions. Many mobile devices come with a feature for identifying the location of the device using third parties in case it is lost. The instructions for formatting your device and restoring factory settings are usually provided by the manufacturer. It’s important to learn this beforehand because when you run away from your abuser, you may not have a chance to get a secure “burner” phone.
- Reset your router and change the default login details for Internet-enabled appliances
If you manage to get rid of the abuser, it’s a good idea to confirm whether they still have access to any Internet-enabled devices in your home. Smart home devices such as your smart speaker can potentially be used for nefarious reasons such as eavesdropping on your conversations. The first step to mitigating this risk is resetting your router to factory settings. You can get the instructions for resetting the router from the manufacturer’s website or by getting in touch with its customer service.
- Review the privacy and security settings of your social media accounts
If the threat you’re facing from your abuser is severe, perhaps you ought to consider deleting all your social media accounts. If this seems too drastic, however, you can at least do your best to make sure that your abuser cannot use your social media accounts to stalk you. To do this, you need to review and make the appropriate changes to your privacy settings. For example, change the secret questions and answers used to reset your account if you think your abuser can guess the answer and gain access to your accounts.
Additionally, enable two-factor authentication to ensure that the abuser cannot access your account even if they know the password. All the major social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—offer two-factor authentication. The same goes for your email address and all other important online accounts such as your online bank accounts.
A final word from VPN Base
Being a victim of domestic abuse and violence is among the most difficult situations to try and escape from. Even if you manage to get out of an abusive and violent relationship, you should still consider taking the measures outlined in this article to mitigate the risk of being harmed by the abuser.
Some of the practices mentioned in this article are useful even in other situations, such as if you’re living with others, such as family or roommates, with whom you share an Internet network. If you have smart home devices, make sure to review their access and security settings to remove any security vulnerabilities they open you up to.
It is worth emphasizing the importance of identifying and using a suitable VPN service to improve your online privacy and security as this is one of the most effective tools in your privacy and security arsenal. Finding the best VPN service involves balancing your budget and your needs. However, don’t skimp on VPN services as you would on luxury services, because the benefits usually far outweigh the costs.