Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse

People thought they were going crazy.

Their air conditioner randomly turned off.

The combination on their door lock changed every day.

The doorbell kept ringing even though no one was there.

These are all symptoms of domestic abuse where one partner understands how to use those technical toys against the other partner.

And, in the case of Internet connected cameras, they could watch and listen as well.

I have heard stories of an aggravated partner turning the heat up to 100 when their former partner was away or turning the heat off in the middle of the winter to have their  ex wake up to a freezing house.

Not surprisingly, the law is a tiny bit behind the times.  As in clueless.

Many of the victims were women and many of the gadgets were installed by men.  Many of them from wealthy enclaves where the tech IoT boom has gone crazy.

The idea behind doing this is control – again not surprising.

Do not expect the courts to be much help when it comes to restraining orders.  Most don’t cover digital domestic abuse and the few that do – good luck proving what happened and who did it.

So, what do to about it?

Obviously, the simple answer is to disconnect the devices.  If you have a smart thermostat, replace it with a simple mechanical one.  Not as “cool”, but I dare you to remotely hack a mechanical thermostat.

For smart lights, replace them with inexpensive dumb lights.

If you want to keep the tech, the problem becomes more complicated.

First, change the WiFi password.  But a word of warning.  This will likely break every smart device that you have.

Once you have changed the WiFi password, next you get to figure out how to do a reset on every device in the house and reprogram it.  Until you reprogram a given device, it is a dumb device.  If the smart lightbulb cannot be remotely accessed, you are going to have to walk over to the wall and turn the light on.

For some devices, I would recommend never turning them back on.  Like smart locks.  Way too risky.

For online services, create new accounts and disable or delete the old accounts.

And, create complex passwords that your ex will not be able to figure out.  Your ex probably knows at least some of your current passwords and if there is a pattern to them, your new passwords cannot use those same patterns.  Random is way harder to guess, but you will have to use some form of password manager to keep track of them.

Also, if the new account wants an email address to use for password resets, DO NOT use any existing email account that you have.  Create a new GMail account and make it non-obvious.  Don’t use SamT1234. Use S4735x2.  Something that will be very difficult to guess and give it a complex password as well.

If you don’t want to just shut off these smart devices – and that may be easier, it is going to take some level of effort.

Your choice.  Not a pretty choice, but a choice none the less.

Information for this post came from the New York Times.

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