Internet trolls and the law

The first time I had the word “troll” within the context of the internet, I had no idea what it meant. I found out the hard way, as most people have by now. Internet trolls can make our lives pretty miserable and can cost some people their only means of business advertising.

But what can you do about them? They are anonymous by definition, and police officers are usually just as powerless as you are when it comes to tracking down trolls and identifying them.

In addition, while trolls can be thoroughly unpleasant and sometimes incredibly hurtful, they often aren’t breaking any criminal laws.

Many have developed their pestering skills to perfection. The way they render people powerless and expose them to senseless hurt and insults – such as in the case of Leo Traynor who was viciously stalked by the 17-year-old son of a friend – can be impossible to accept as life as usual and then just forget about. So what do you do?

One option is to sue them in civil proceedings (and for example call them John Doe). That is complicated, and hard. It forces you to be as persistent as your troll. Another one is to trap them, but it only works if the troll is not particularly tech-savvy. You can read about both methods in this Forbes article about Leo Traynor and the case of Carla Franklin who forced Google to reveal who was tormenting him. (Read more here.) Two years later, she sued Chico Shon Moss.

There are a few web pages out there that claim that Mr Traynor made up the entire story. It does not actually matter whether he did or not because the trolling he described is very real. He is not the only person who undergoes this kind of abuse. I too have some experience with this kind of stuff and I am certainly not the only one. In another account, you can read about a man called Chris Andrews in real life, a politician who quit his party when unmasked as a Twitter troll.

Nicola Brookes is a woman in the British seaside town Brighton. She asked the court to force Facebook to reveal the identity of the anonymous trolls who tormented her for months, even suggesting she was actively involved in sexual child abuse as well as a drug dealer. The High Court ruled in her favour, a legal first (see also this EU report Cybercrime and Punishment- New Developments & Challenges by Sylvia Kierkegaard).

One of the trolls turned out to be police officer Lee Rimell. He was arrested, but not suspended, says a follow-up article in the Daily Mail and this BBC article. Apparently he worked out of Birmingham.

He received a serious written warning, according to this detailed article on the web site of Sophos. It shows you in detail what kind of horrific abuse Nicola Brookes was subjected to. Not that different from what Leo Traynor said happened to him.

Internet trolls and the law

The first time I had the word “troll” within the context of the internet, I had no idea what it meant. I found out the hard way, as most people have by now. Internet trolls can make our lives pretty miserable and can cost some people their only means of business advertising.

But what can you do about them? They are anonymous by definition, and police officers are usually just as powerless as you are when it comes to tracking down trolls and identifying them.

In addition, while trolls can be thoroughly unpleasant and sometimes incredibly hurtful, they often aren’t breaking any criminal laws.

Many have developed their pestering skills to perfection. The way they render people powerless and expose them to senseless hurt and insults – such as in the case of Leo Traynor who was viciously stalked by the 17-year-old son of a friend – can be impossible to accept as life as usual and then just forget about. So what do you do?

One option is to sue them in civil proceedings (and for example call them John Doe). That is complicated, and hard. It forces you to be as persistent as your troll. Another one is to trap them, but it only works if the troll is not particularly tech-savvy. You can read about both methods in this Forbes article about Leo Traynor and the case of Carla Franklin who forced Google to reveal who was tormenting him. (Read more here.) Two years later, she sued Chico Shon Moss.

There are a few web pages out there that claim that Mr Traynor made up the entire story. It does not actually matter whether he did or not because the trolling he described is very real. He is not the only person who undergoes this kind of abuse. I too have some experience with this kind of stuff and I am certainly not the only one. In another account, you can read about a man called Chris Andrews in real life, a politician who quit his party when unmasked as a Twitter troll.

Nicola Brookes is a woman in the British seaside town Brighton. She asked the court to force Facebook to reveal the identity of the anonymous trolls who tormented her for months, even suggesting she was actively involved in sexual child abuse as well as a drug dealer. The High Court ruled in her favour, a legal first (see also this EU report Cybercrime and Punishment- New Developments & Challenges by Sylvia Kierkegaard).

One of the trolls turned out to be police officer Lee Rimell. He was arrested, but not suspended, says a follow-up article in the Daily Mail and this BBC article. Apparently he worked out of Birmingham.

He received a serious written warning, according to this detailed article on the web site of Sophos. It shows you in detail what kind of horrific abuse Nicola Brookes was subjected to. Not that different from what Leo Traynor said happened to him.

Hacking: What you can do

Hackers can do incredible damage to businesses and contrary to what is often thought, hackers don’t only go after large corporations with vast amounts of credit card data and e-mail addresses. They go after tiny outfits too and after people like you and me. Below are a few things you need to know about hacking.

Picture of me 1-crop4In 2009, British police was given the power to hack into personal computers without a court warrant. It is called remote searching. You can read more about it in this article in The independent. By the way, it ends with this important bit of information:

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain’s policy of retaining samples from people never convicted of a crime – including children – breaches human rights.

However, there have also been reports that the British police runs hopelessly behind with regard to fighting cyber crime, because it lacks the knowledge and technology (see here). “The police are becoming more aware of the cyber threat, but remain behind in terms of their own technology, knowledge and intelligence”. How does this add up? To police not being able to do much, in practice. Cyber crime investigations are expensive and require the kind of expert knowledge few people possess.

The least you can do?

  • Always cover your web cam when it’s not in use. Read more about web cams and hacking here and here.
  • Never tell anyone you do not really know what computer equipment you have and what software you run. The chances that you are talking with a hacker may be slim, but if you are, particularly if it is someone you have exchanged e-mail with (meaning that the person has your IP address), the person may not even have to use software intended to test computer security (such as Metasploit) to examine your computer from a distance and then use software like MeterPreter to target the vulnerabilities in your equipment.
  • Be aware that any e-mail you receive may be spoofed. Faked. There is no way to tell whether an e-mail is spoofed or not. E-mail that appears to come from a potential new client may contain a link that causes you to download code (and even the mail itself may contain code). Do a web search instead of clicking on the link and call that possible new client instead of e-mailing back.
  • If you are in the habit of filling out online surveys to make an extra few pennies, mail announcing a new survey can be spoofed too. Keep that in mind before you announce to the world (Facebook, Twitter) that you are filling out online surveys. Such an e-mail can then take you to the computer of a hacker who can ask you to tell him or her truthfully what kind of computer equipment you are using and all sorts of other things he or she wants to know.
  • Internet traffic can be redirected with internet port relay software. I don’t know how exactly it works. If you know what a traceroute is and suspect that some of your traffic is being rerouted, run a traceroute and direct its output to your printer (so that you have a hardcopy that cannot be tampered with). A traceroute can be redirected as well, however. Having traceroute results that show tampering is no good for police, but it can tell you that you are not going paranoid after all. That’s worth a lot.
  • If you use Facebook, Skype or anything else that has a chat possibility, use it on one specific piece of equipment, not on your main computer if you want to keep that computer safe. If you use anything with a chat feature on your main computer, it provides a hacker with a direct conduit into your PC. Particularly Facebook seems to be very leaky. If you keep all those social media communications limited to one device that you don’t use for anything else, you can easily reset or reinstall it in the event of a problem (generally without losing any data).
  • If you’ve just had broadband or cable installed and someone calls you claiming to be from your provider asking you any of the numbers on the side of the router or the like, don’t give it to the caller.
  • If you use a mobile phone for business, get several phones and only allow one phone number to be known publicly. That’s like the e-mail address on which you don’t mind getting spam. Use it only to receive calls, from mostly unknown parties. Use a non-published phone number on a different mobile to communicate much more securely with your trusted clients.
  • There is a lot of free and cheap software out there that you really don’t want to know about. Particularly if you have a persistent suitor, ex or an envious competitor, you should be aware, though, that there are all kinds of software that enable someone to modulate his or her voice when they call you or Skype with you, including changing gender. it works well, too.
  • I have no idea how tablets get hacked (Facebook use and hacking of mifi hotspots?), but regularly resetting one’s tablet, always verifying downloads, and backing up or removing personal files regularly is probably a good idea and anyone who tells you that there is not much hackers can do with a tablet still has a lot to learn.
    Below is an example of a tablet hack. You may have to play the (converted) video a few times and watch the tablet screen at the beginning to see that the tablet screen is filling up all by itself. There were pages and pages and pages of the stuff. The original recording is 7 seconds long and is continuous but has a bit rate of 64 kbps; the converted file seems to consist of only three images.

In spite of what most people think, though, many hackers are good for society and some may even help you on occasion.