If you are coming out of a marriage, or long-term relationship, chances are it has been a while since you have been in the dating game.
The last time you were playing the field, chances are the term “safe sex” simply meant protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
You should be aware of a few changes before you wade back into the dating waters after divorce. In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), safe sex means more than just using a contraceptive.
Today, a new partner may mean new connected sex toys, requiring you to ensure they are protected from cyberattackers. You must also watch out for scammers who have no concerns about taking advantage of people using online sites to find a love connection.
How to Have Safe Sex After Divorce
Let’s start with the concept of connected sex toys. The sex toy market is being flooded with the latest advancement in technology — cleverly referred to as ‘sexnology’ — that allows a user of the toy to give control to a remote partner through a smartphone app. In the midst of a pandemic, when people are being asked to maintain physical distancing and remain at home, more people are engaging in remote sexual engagements that take advantage of this technology.
But this literal explosion in the use of connected sex toys should come with a big disclaimer — if you are using a sex toy that is considered an Internet of Things device or uses Bluetooth technology, it can be hacked.
Just because a sex toy has been approved as “safe” for sale, doesn’t mean it is immune from a cyberattack. It is important that consumers understand that some things you may not consider to be IoT or Smart Home can have vulnerability or privacy issues.
We should be cautious about everything we connect to the Internet, especially devices that are very personal and may be sharing extremely sensitive personal information.
My colleagues, ESET Latin America researchers Denise Giusto Bilic and Cecilia Pastorino investigated security flaws in sex toys and discovered disturbing findings, including vulnerabilities that included a so-called “Man-in-the-Middle” attack, where an uninvited third party hijacks a Bluetooth signal to take control of a device. They can also gain access to personal information — name and location, contact details, photos, videos, sexual preferences, and perhaps financial data — that could be subject to a very embarrassing security breach.
The possibility of a stranger taking control of a remote sex toy also creates a new risk of sexual assault as they are making unwanted intrusions into one’s sexual activities. And take caution, as sexual assault laws in most jurisdictions may not have yet caught up to this kind of intrusion.
However, just like contraceptives can help stop the spread of STDs, there are protective measures people can take to ensure their sexual experiences stay between them and their partner.
Protective Measures You Can Take
- Clandestine Account Information — Be sly when entering information to register and create an account. Use a fantasy name and create a new email address that cannot identify you.
- Be Discreet — If you are going to share images or videos, avoid sharing content where your face or unique markings can make you easily identifiable. And do not post remote control tokens that allow a third party to control the device on the Internet.
- Keep it Updated — This goes for all of your Internet of Things devices, but ensure the firmware is updated. These updates often fix bugs and vulnerabilities to ensure the most current version is the safest. Many of these devices also connect through an app, which should be updated as well.
- Stay Close to Home — It is advisable to use connected sex toys in a protected environment — like your home where your personal network can provide an extra layer of defense against intruders. Public places like a bar or nightclub or areas where a lot of people are passing through — like hotels — are a big risk for unwanted exposure.
- Test it Out — Before buying a connected sex toy, get on a search engine and see if it has been subject to security concerns in the past. It is also advised to download the app that operates the toy to get an idea of how it operates, what kind of information it collects, and if it is secure.
- Authenticate — When researching your purchase, see if there is an authentication step. This will greatly enhance the cybersafety of the toy.
- Provide your own Protection — Just like using contraceptives, provide your own protection when engaging with a connected sex toy by ensuring your smartphone is fully updated and has a security solution installed. Protect your home WiFi network with strong passwords, securely encrypted algorithms, and regular updating of the router’s firmware.
If you share something on one of these sex toy apps, at some stage it might become public. So make sure it can’t be traced back to you in any way. The only safety you should be worried about is a safe word.
The other big change in the dating space is the ease with which you can connect with prospects in the digital space. Dating apps and websites like Tinder, OKCupid, Hinge, or Bumble make it easier to find a potential partner or companion.
Unfortunately, they also make it easier for scammers to prey on people who are only looking for companionship. When putting yourself out there on a dating site, it is best to be wary when replies and interest start rolling in.
How to Spot Scammers
First, check the photos carefully. Scammers never use their own picture and often just use stock images of models. If they are posing with a beverage or other product and the picture looks overly staged, that’s probably because it is. Request a family photo or do a reverse image search on the picture.
Your alarm bells should be going off immediately if they come on too strong, too soon. Promising their undying affection, telling you they love you or proclaiming that you’re their soul mate within the first few days of conversation should arouse your suspicion instantly. Scammers will try to advance the relationship as fast as possible to make you feel wanted, softening you up with serenades to reach their ultimate goal, which is your wallet. Most dating services allow you to block and report the profile of the potential fraudster, with the app’s moderation team taking it from there.
Another red flag is a concentrated effort to move the conversation to another communication platform. Dating platforms have ways to detect scammers besides the reporting feature. In order to avoid triggering these mechanisms, scammers try to coax you into sharing your phone number or email or IM handle. At this point you’re already surrendering too much personal information — to a person you virtually don’t know at all.
Because scammers take on the identities of others, they will never be able to meet you in person. They may take on the persona of a professional who inspires trust but is abroad for extended periods — think member of the military, aid worker, or diplomat. This gives them an excuse, but as the courtship progresses be wary if they always have an excuse to not meet in person.
The scammer’s objective in all of this is to get money. It may start small, but as time goes by both the frequency and amounts will increase. They will often build a sob story about paying for medical bills or caring for a sick relative, or perhaps they have a great new business idea that they just need to get off the ground.
Remember that relationships are built on trust. When you are fresh out of a divorce, a dating app may be a great tool to help you find whatever it is you are looking for — could be just someone to spend an evening with, or something more long term — but be aware of the risks that come with meeting strangers. In every instance, you should try to verify as much as possible and never blindly trust what a new-found love says.
Tony Anscombe is the Chief Security Evangelist with ESET, which develops industry-leading IT security software and services to protect against digital threats. www.eset.com