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Kristina Balaam: As women look to increase safety, do hi-tech safety hacks work?

Written by Kristina Balaam, Security Intelligence Engineer at mobile cybersecurity specialist, Lookout

Following the tragic news of Sarah Everard, there has been a wave of women taking to social media to voice their concerns and share tips on how to keep safe while out alone. One of the posts currently circulating on Instagram relates to an iPhone hack that alerts emergency services and contacts if you’re ever in danger. This hack will emit a loud siren if the lock button is pressed 5 times, while simultaneously sharing your location with your contacts and the authorities.

This tip, however, has sparked some questions as to its legitimacy. It has also driven general curiosity on other apps that may be useful for women who find themselves in dangerous/hostile situations.  Here’s what women need to know.

Apple

The Emergency Services hack shared in response to Sarah Everard’s tragic disappearance is legitimate: Apple outlines how to trigger an Emergency SOS and alarm on multiple versions of the iOS operating system on their support website:

https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT208076″

For those with Apple Watches, the same functionality can be triggered directly from the watch.

Android

For Android users, an Emergency feature exists but is slightly different than its iOS counterpart and its setup and shortcuts can depend on the kind of device a user has, as well as the version of Android the device is running. The feature can be set-up on a user’s device by searching the Settings menu for ‘Emergency’.

Third Party apps

A number of third-party applications also incorporate live tracking or emergency SOS features. Some fitness apps have a safety feature wherein the user can share a live broadcast of their location with trusted contacts. Strava’s, “Beacon” feature is one such example. “Find My Friends” is an iOS-only application that allows users to share their locations with specific contacts.

Warning on Stalkerware & advice for Victims of Domestic Abuse

Victims of domestic abuse are susceptible to spying applications, known as “Stalkerware”, that can share their location data, text or third party messaging communications and other sensitive details with their aggressor. These applications can capture private information from a mobile device and share it to a specified web or email account. They are unfortunately prevalent in domestic abuse cases and are readily available on the internet, often advertised as “Child / Family Safety” applications.

If you have left your abuser, or are currently a victim of domestic abuse, avoid leaving your device unattended, ensure that its passcode is not shared with others, and regularly monitor your device for applications you don’t recognize. Some “Stalkerware” applications can hide their icons, making it more difficult to find and remove them.

Third-party AntiVirus applications for mobile devices can locate malicious applications – even those who have attempted to hide themselves in the device – and notify the user. You can also regularly review the permissions settings under your device “Settings” to see which applications have been granted (or requested) access to particular features of your device, like the Camera or Audio Recording. The Coalition Against “Stalkerware” has a number of useful resources and indicators of potential stalkerware outlined on their website, https://stopstalkerware.org/get-help/

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