CYBER EXPLOITATION is one of the scourges of our times and one that needs to be fought tooth and nail. It essentially describes the act of uploading or publishing intimate content (photos, video, audio and text) of a former lover or partner without their consent. The intent behind this despicable act is to mentally harass the person and cause extensive damage to their reputation. Often born of revenge or resentment, the practice of smearing one’s reputation online poses as much a threat as any technical form of hacking.
In fact, cyber exploitation, at its core, is a type of social engineering attack. But unlike cyber bullying which has received widespread attention and countermeasures, unscrupulous people have made a roaring business of cyber exploitation with thousands of websites displaying pictures obtained without the consent of its subjects. You can only imagine how terrible and utterly soul-destroying this is for people who are otherwise decent, upstanding and law-abiding.
Arguably the most significant case of cyber exploitation to date involved a former US Congresswoman who not only resigned her post, but experienced physical illness and even contemplated suicide. While congressional terms run in two year increments, hers lasted for only eleven (11) months.
Prevention, they say is better than cure, and nothing could be more true when it comes to the defiled act of cyber exploitation. Each of us should take steps that will ensure we are never caught in such a situation, rather than deal with the rippling effects of damage control. Here’s what you might consider doing:
Refrain from Sharing or Engaging in Overly Sexual Photos and Videos
This one is at the top of the list and a tricky one to balance. Love and other strong emotions are notorious for clouding one’s judgment, but hindsight is 20/20. If possible, avoid engaging in overly sexual photos and videos. Such a decision will make it that much easier to move forward should you and your partner separate in the future. Should anyone pressure you to share explicit photos with them online, don’t fall for it. In fact, you should go ahead and report such requests. People you befriend on the Web may not always have your best interest in mind, and children, in particular, should be cautioned about such predators and encouraged to never engage them.
Store Your Personal and Intimate Photos Offline or in Encrypted Folders
A stitch in time saves nine. If you have personal or intimate content in which you are the subject, be sure to store it offline or in a folder on your computer that is password-protected. The cloud is certainly a more convenient protocol, but you should NEVER store such content in places that are susceptible to hacking.
Countering Cyber Exploitation by Password Protecting Your Device
Unattended devices that are not password protected can easily become the breeding grounds for malicious activity. We often think of this as just being a computer virus, but not every hacker is interested in compromising your device for money or sport. Sure, cyber exploitation can lead to ransomware, in which you are urged to pay money in exchange for your privacy or safety. But such remedies often do little to curb the smearing of your reputation. An unprotected device can be accessed by anyone in a matter of minutes, so it makes sense to encrypt your phone, tablet or computer to secure your personal information from the very start.
Don’t Share Your Passwords with Anyone
It is important that you never share your passwords with anyone—no matter how close you are to them. In some ways this is an extension of the very first rule in that relationships (of any kind) see their ups and downs. Those who are close to you now might someday become estranged and not close to you at all. Sharing the passwords to your most sensitive accounts can have long term effects: Even if you end up changing them, those with whom they were shared may know the pattern in which you think. This makes any combination of characters not derived from a random password generator more susceptible to cracking.
Copyright Your Personal Pictures
With this rule we venture into paid solutions for protecting your image and “any likeness thereof.” Some variations of the poor man’s copyright suggest that any work you’ve authored yourself is accompanied with copyright protection. Selfies and self-portraits are included in this body of work. Still, it may be worth taking it a step further by investing $35 – $55 to register your work with the United States Copyright Office (or the equivalent if you live in another country). If there are photos of you that were taken by another person, you can ask them to fill out a copyright assessment form. This would allow you to gain control of the photograph should it be uploaded onto the Internet without your consent.
Installing Security Software to Fight against Cyber Exploitation
Although anti-virus (AV) software is not a direct remedy for cyber exploitation, having it on your computers and smart devices WILL help prevent hackers from accessing a wide range of personal data, which includes your private photos and videos. It is also a much cheaper solution than trying to obtain copyright protection. After all, Hollywood and other money machines have a difficult enough time enforcing copyright laws themselves. Wouldn’t it make more sense to strengthen your online protection as much as possible?
Cyber criminals are ever on the prowl trying to break into unprotected devices and networks, so its a good idea to use at least two (2) security products on any device that connects directly to the Internet. We’ve tested many anti-virus products already and encourage you to check out our product reviews to find the right solution for you.