More Domestic Abuse Cases Involve Tech

The number of complex domestic abuse cases in which perpetrators used digital technology to harass, stalk, and control their victims has risen sharply in the United Kingdom.

According to the charity Refuge, which is the largest specialist provider of domestic abuse investigation services in England and Wales, the average number of complex tech abuse cases reported from April 2020 to May 2021 rose 97% compared with the three months before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Tech abuse can take many forms, including cyber-stalking, hacking into a victim's email or phone, sending abusive electronic communications, controlling passwords for online accounts, and installing spyware on a victim's devices. 

Refuge, which supports over 7,000 people a day, set up a dedicated tech abuse team in 2017. The increase in cases over the past year has been so significant that the charity recently created a new website that aims to provide further support.

The site contains advice in English, Urdu, Polish, and Spanish on how to secure technology and details of where people can access support if they are experiencing digital abuse. Included are 17 different support guides that walk users through a range of device and account settings step by step. 

“Over the last year, as the UK moved to adopt necessary lockdown measures, many of us have turned to our tech to connect with loved ones," said Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison.

“However, at Refuge we’re keenly aware that technology is often used by perpetrators of domestic abuse to further isolate, intimidate, and stalk their partners from their support networks, making it even more difficult for women to escape their abusers."

Another report published by Refuge’s partner Avast in April uncovered a 93% uptick in the use of malicious stalkerware and spyware apps in the UK since lockdown began.

“The growth in stalkerware and spyware poses a huge concern," said Avast CISO Jaya Baloo.  

"Stalkerware is a form of tech abuse, an increasing threat which takes away the physical and online freedom of the victim. Usually installed secretly on mobile phones by so-called friends, jealous spouses, and ex-partners, stalkerware tracks the physical location of the victim, monitors sites visited, phone calls, and text messages, undermining a person’s online freedom and individual liberty.”

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?