January 29, 2020

6 tips for protecting your Digital Security upon separation


By Deborah Wilson & Andrew Sauer

  1. Change your passwords!

Many couples share passwords with each other at some point during their relationship. Further, with family sharing of devices, cloud sharing and automatic password saving, your former partner may have access to communications and information inadvertently.

Upon separation, we recommend as a first step that you set up a new email account, completely unknown to your former partner. Use this email to ensure confidentiality of communications. Further, as confirmation of changes to other passwords are usually sent to your email account, using your new email account to change other passwords will ensure that those changes remain private.

We also recommend that you change the password on your phone and on all other accounts. A list of common accounts which should be changed is provided in the table below. You may think of other accounts specific to you.

If you are not the account holder for your mobile telephone, open an account in your name and migrate the number to your account (if possible- this may require the consent of the account holder). If not, although it may cause inconvenience, you may wish to consider obtaining a new mobile telephone account (and particularly should do so if there is any form of harassment, stalking or controlling behaviour from your ex-partner).

Subject to obtaining at least some preliminary legal advice, we also recommend that you obtain new credit cards and debit cards to avoid online misuse by your former partner.

2.   Remove yourself from products that “speak to each other”

Remove or restrict the devices that may sync with or are authorised for cloud storage access and subscription services.

Apple products are often synced together so you can access information from different Apple devices such as an iPhone, iPad or laptop. They can share contacts, messages, calendar appointments, notes, and internet history. If you share an Apple ID or iCloud account, your former partner may have access to photos, locations, emails.

We recommend that you obtain a new Apple account (or Google account) and remove yourself from the shared account. Before you do so, you may want to download data, for example photos, and save it to your private storage device as once you remove yourself, you will lose access to photos, documents and apps and music saved under that AppleID or iCloud.

3.   Ensure that tracking apps are off or inaccessible to your former partner

Check any apps you have downloaded which share your exact location are deleted or location settings are turned off. Example of apps with location tracking are Find my Friends, Facebook, Google+ and Family Locator.

In addition, check that your former partner cannot track your whereabouts using “Find my iPhone” via a shared iCloud account or an Android Device manager, which can locate or wipe your device.

Change all privacy settings to their highest levels.

4.  Reconsider your use of social media

Consider carefully your use of social media. Even if you have removed your former partner as a ‘friend’ on social media and have high privacy settings, it is probable that you will have mutual friends through whom your former partner could access your posts. Anything you post on social media may end up as evidence in Court.

Do not post anything about your former partner, children or family law proceedings on social media or elsewhere-this can constitute a breach of section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975, which can result in criminal penalties including imprisonment.

5.  A word of caution regarding interactions with your former partner

Do not access your former partner’s emails, social media accounts, personal bank accounts or other personal accounts or information. Even if you know your former partner’s’ passwords- do not use them.

Do not send threatening or abusive text messages or make unwanted calls.

Do not use tracking or surveillance devices.

Do not record or video private conversations or interactions without the other person’s’ consent.

These behaviours constitute technology-facilitated stalking and abuse under the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) and if convicted, carry a criminal penalty.

Further, these behaviours constitute family violence and could result in a Family Violence Intervention Order against you.

It is wise to consider carefully all of your communications with your former partner. Where you are not able to limit communications with them, be mindful that all communications should be respectful in tone as any such communications may end up being read by a Judge.

6.  Research yourself

We recommend that you undertake an internet search of yourself (it is one of the first things your former partner and their lawyer will do). Advise your lawyer if anything problematic arises.

Common accounts to change passwords, secret questions, back-up details (phone number/email):

  • Physical devices: e.g. phone, tablet, laptop, Digital Assistants (‘Alexa’); USB drives; external hard drives
  • Cloud accounts: AppleID, Google ID iCloud accounts, Dropbox, Google Drive; Microsoft One Drive
  • Email accounts
  • Utility accounts
  • Shopping and online payment accounts: e.g. eBay and PayPal
  • Banking accounts, credit cards and debit cards.
  • Rewards points accounts
  • Private Health Insurance accounts
  • Superannuation accounts
  • MyGov portal (Centrelink, Medicare, Child Support, ATO)
  • Shared service accounts: Uber family profile
  • Messaging apps: WhatsApp, iMessage
  • Shared digital subscriptions: Microsoft 3690, Antivirus
  • Shared entertainment streaming accounts: Netflix, Spotify
  • School portals and school related apps: e.g. Seesaw, Compass
  • Apps and games with inApp purchases

Note: this is not an exhaustive list.  You may think of other accounts specific to you.

For further information on personal cyber security: www.staysmartonline.gov.au