iNfestation: How to Become a Badass Cyber Exterminator

Getting rid of a cyberstalker is just like spraying for cockroaches.

If you truly want to break free from a cyberstalker you'll need to treat him like a pest. To completely eradicate pests you must ultimately find--and block--the source of the infestation. If you miss even one little egg you can find yourself with a major problem again.

When I realized that my network was infected, like digital syphilis or the most terrible, recurring yeast infection ever, I knew the hundreds of hours I'd spent trying to figure out a plan, replace equipment and get support had been wasted. I'd been looking in the wrong place. Screw the police, a cyber crew, security services, even a therapist, who needed to talk? Not me. I needed an exterminator.

Obviously, I had to take point on this venture myself because I assumed that, until this exact moment in time, cyber exterminators did not exist.* Within seconds of Googling "steps that an exterminator takes" I had a plan to get rid of my next cyberstalker. It was too late for the first one. He had laid eggs in every account I had and there was no option other than to torch the place and move on. Lesson learned.

My favorite thing about adopting the Exterminator's Code (I just made that up) is that they assume that pests happen, that pests will always try and find a way to return and that the types of pests you may encounter along the way are vast and varied--just like cyberstalkers and all their creepy tactics. Thinking about my situation from an exterminator's perspective was way more helpful than anything I read about cyber security and any advice I got from, well, anyone.

Exterminators also appreciate that pests have a way of finding their way into your home undetected and that there's pretty much nothing you can do except avoid, block, detect, respond and recover/treat. We need to take a similar approach with cyberstalkers, although unfortunately, we are not allowed to poison them.

Cyberstalkers can be classified as agents of deterioration. They certainly don't improve anything. If you've been targeted directly and you've decided you would still like to use the internet from time to time, you are always going to have to be vigilant. Cockroaches can squeeze through the tiniest of cracks. Like the Goonies, however, we can adopt the mantra "Never give up, never surrender," and eventually win back our safe and secure family home on the beautiful Oregon coast.

I would like to save you all hundreds of hours of heartache, fighting with people who want to help, frustrating referral loops and customer service calls, declining physical and mental health and maybe help prevent the loss of your data, devices and major accounts. No promises on that last one. I also cannot promise that you won't inadvertently fall down a wishing well and find a hidden treasure, either. Let's go.

Your stalker is behind one of these doors. Guess the correct door on the first try and you win.

The Cyber Exterminator's Code

The following information is adapted from the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) Notes on Preventing Infestations: Control Strategies and Detection Methods. I've actually left a lot of the wording intact; it's amazing how many of the same strategies and words apply to cyberstalking. What follows are the official guidelines for controlling infestations from the Canadian government. (I'm going to have to ask Larry over at No More Mr. Mice Guy's, too, to see if he has any other ideas. It's important to gather information from all potential sources, right?) In the meantime, the government uses some fancy words which I am officially adopting/stealing for the cause.

Just like healing grief and trauma, liberation from pests does not happen in a linear fashion. Think of these five steps as being connected in a perpetual loop. You can return to any stage when necessary, combine them or do whatever works for you.

If you suspect your activity is being monitored in ANY way, please consult with law enforcement to assess your risk and develop a safety strategy. It is NOT safe for you to simply start deleting accounts and locking things down if you're being cyberstalked. Create a brand new network first and take as little action as possible with your old accounts. Once your cyberstalker knows you're onto them they may become desperate and that increases the risk to you. If you suspect you're being monitored, please exit this website, delete your browser history and cookies and visit again (or get a friend tor advocate to visit for you) from a safe, clean network.

Controlling Agents of Deterioration

Detection is an integral part of the ideal approach to controlling agents of deterioration, which involves five stages: Avoid, Block, Detect, Respond, and Recover/Treat.

Avoid: Reduce the attractants that invited the infestation or the increase in pest numbers. With rodents you could improve sanitation and organize or discard clutter. With a cyberstalker that means closing down old accounts you no longer use, archiving and deleting old emails, organizing files and making sure that any bits of information that could be used to track you (such as location services on Snapchat) are either contained, deleted or 404'd. You'll want to go deep into the security settings of each and every account, change your passwords regularly and use aliases. If you're already being cyberstalked, you need to complete this step last. Please circle back later.

Avoid is preventative maintenance. You should have a good handle on the scope of your digital footprint by the time you're done. Try writing things down. This gives your brain somatic, or physical, input which can be used to make sense of things. It can be very difficult to visualize something--and create a flow chart--when the information exists only in your mind.

Block: This is NOT where you simply block the stalker on Facebook and everything returns to normal. When an exterminator "blocks," they reduce further problems by isolating the artifact, case, or room. To avoid rodents you could bag objects or use tape to seal leaky cabinet doors or screen off ventilator outlets. Regardless, you'll want to control the flow of objects in and out of the area. Inspect surrounding areas to determine the extent of the infestation and to locate its source. For our purposes, 'surrounding areas' are accounts and devices that are linked to each other, or accounts that use the same login email, for example.

To free yourself of a nasty iNfestation, think of each device as a room in your house. Every account you have on that device is a window, or even a door, into that room, which leads to your entire house. Have you just realized that you're living in a glass house with all the doors wide open? In Block you have the opportunity to lock the doors, draw the curtains, board up the windows or even declare the area a hazmat site and abandon it completely. Please note: if your router and/or modem is hacked or infiltrated, it is the equivalent of a hurricane blowing the roof off your home. There's no point in drawing the curtains when you don't have a roof.

Detect: Take measures to determine if there are pests present (for example, collect specimens). Exterminators place live specimens in a vial with 70% ethanol or 40% isopropanol to keep them from shrivelling. Although it's a lovely thought, we can't do that. However, we still need to preserve the evidence in some way. Our specimens are like mouse droppings; sightings, spam, phone calls, unidentified texts, strange friend requests or harassing messages, weird glitches with our tech, loss of internet connectivity and more are all signs of an iNfestation. Our primary means of preservation is called a screenshot. It's important that we properly preserve everything and that means getting it off your device as soon as possible. If you can, print it immediately. If you can't print, you'll need to find a safe place to store everything online. Label the picture with the location (account) at which the specimen was found, and the date and device on which it was discovered. If you insist on storing your documentation online, make sure it is backed up and secure in at least three different places and that there is no way for you to lose access to the original account.

Law enforcement is supposed to confirm the validity of your screenshots, emails and texts by verifying the account from which it came. In most cases this never happens. Targets are asked to continuing documenting, to leave accounts open until they can be verified one day down the road and aren't told that if the account isn't verified then none of it is admissible in a court of law. In my case, the police wouldn't even accept digital documentation. They expected me to print out over 10,000 screenshots and conversations and never bothered to verify my accounts. Unfortunately, I was storing everything online in the Cloud and across six different devices. All it took was my cyberstalker locking me out of my accounts and devices and everything was effectively destroyed. Since the accounts were never verified, it's like it never even happened and all my screenshots are useless.

Please try and document things on paper. Describe what happened and any damage that has occurred. Don't forget to write about how you feel; the psychological impact on you is what constitutes a criminal offense in the first place. Identify the accounts that are affected and that need maintenance or deletion. Create a flow chart of how different accounts and events are connected. Research possible control methods (a physical security key, for example). At this point, it is also wise to develop contacts with experts to assist in identification. Don't worry if you can't find anyone and don't let anyone tell you 1) something isn't possible, or 2) it's all in your head. Just like your body and mind, no one knows your accounts and devices better than you. You are the best detective for this case.

If you find you are mostly experiencing technical glitches, for example, it could be that you are not being cyberstalked. Or, it could be that your cyberstalker has entered a surveillance only phase. Some stalkers are incredibly clever and never do the same thing twice. During the detection phase it is incredibly important to figure out what type of iPredator you are dealing with and to assess your risk. Feel free to get started with the quizzes and tools on our Resource page. We've even got a tool to figure out if you are being cyberstalked.

Respond: If there is an iNfestation, apply appropriate control methods to the collection and to the collection area. Assess control measures by continuing detection practices.

Essentially, if you've figured out that you are dealing with an iNfestation, i.e. are being cyberstalked, you have to respond. This phase is so important we've done a full post about it here (coming soon). It could be that your "response" is seemingly nothing. It's all going to depend on your unique situation and if it's safe for you to take security measures. Your response will depend on what you have uncovered during the Detection phase.

Recover/Treat: Clean affected 'artifacts' to prevent false alarms on later inspections. Perform necessary consolidatory and restorative measures.

It could be that you'll need to start completely fresh and build a brand new network from scratch in private, with a new identity and devices--and absolutely no connection to your old life, devices and network, even your own home WiFi. Wait, especially your own home WiFi. If you suspect you're being stalked by an ex or someone who has been in your house you cannot just change your passwords and call it good. Once an account has been infiltrated, even the ones that seem completely safe and secure (remember the stalking part of cyberstalking) there doesn't seem to be any way to completely secure it. The programs available to stalkers these days make it possible to still access account information and backups, even if you've changed your password and your credentials.

* cosmic job opportunity folks! Become cyber exterminators. Help those you love sort their way out of an insurmountable mess.

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