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Identifying cyberbullies by tracking digital trails

A cyber security expert explains how authorities might go about finding, for example, who was running social media accounts which harassed Erik and Melinda Karlsson.
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Internet users can take steps to create new personas and hide their online footprints, but one cyber security expert warns, it is a lot more difficult than most think.

Ritesh Kotak told The Rick Gibbons Show on 1310 NEWS, using a public wifi network makes a user more difficult to track, but when they sign up for a new account, they still need an active email address, and they will need to create a password.

Those are all things that can leave 'cookie crumbs,' which can be used to start building the story of the real world individual.

"When you actually create that account and you use and email address, was that email address fake? Did you ever log into that email address from your home or your mobile device? All of these things leave digital trails -- essentially IP addresses," explained Kotak. "With those IP addresses, through a production order which the police would issue, you'd be able to find out the date and time when that account was created, what IP addresses were used, what subscriber information might be there, and you start piecing things together."

Kotak said sometimes users release info about themselves without realizing it. For instance, photos contain what he called 'metadata,' which could contain a date and time, and could link to a device or location.

Kotak added that investigations, such as the one into whoever has been bullying Ottawa Senators Captain Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda, take a lot of time and resources. It's not simply a police officer calling up a social media company and saying, 'Give me what I'm looking for.'  

"Think of it as a big puzzle, and you have 1,000 different pieces," he said. "You might have five pieces now, five pieces tomorrow, ten pieces down the road, but when you start putting these pieces together, you get an idea of what the picture might be."

The cyber security expert said anyone can try completely wiping their online presence by deleting everything in their name, but a digital shadow will remain.

His advice is to be a good citizen of the Internet, otherwise, there is a good chance of making a misstep and being caught. 

Listen to the full conversation with Ritesh Kotak:





Mike Vlasveld

About the Author: Mike Vlasveld

Mike Vlasveld, Digital Editor, CityNews Ottawa & the Valley
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