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Leading divorce lawyers are advising clients in the process of splitting up to tighten up their online security, warning how easy it is for an individual’s personal data to be accessed by a soon-to-be-ex-partner.
While internet-connected gadgets are designed by make life easier, the ease with which they can be accessed by people living under the same roof is also making it easier for warring couples to snoop on each other.
“There’s a whole list of things to consider when getting divorced but one thing that does not often enter into the minds of people breaking up is the need to protect themselves online,” said Lucia Clark, an international family law specialist at independent law firm Morton Fraser.
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“However, with so many online and email accounts now linked between spouses, people do not realise that their personal and sensitive information can often still be accessed by their former partner.”
For example, Ms Clark says that Apple products are often synced together enabling users to access information from various devices, such as an iPhone, iPad or laptop. This can cause problems when couples separate and may have appointments which they do not want their ex to see.
Married couples often share an Apple ID or iCloud account, but doing so can give an ex-partner access to emails, messages, photos, or locational data without their spouse even knowing.
Suzanne Kingston, a solicitor with law firm Withers, said she increasingly has to warn her clients to take control of their personal data. “I have had a case where the wife thought that her husband could not access her email and refused to change her password. It later transpired he had been accessing all of her emails, including her legal advice,” she said.
Security breaches can also occur when devices are handed over to children to play online games. The child — or partner — can then access emails or read personal messages sent to a connected smartphone that pop up on screen without the need for a password.
The warning comes as FT Money lists 10 popular myths about divorce— including the revelation that adultery can only be grounds for divorce where it is committed with a member of the opposite sex.
Legal experts say that the first password that those in the throes of a split should change is the one for their email account. When other passwords are changed or reset, the link is usually sent to the email address — and if your former spouse still has access to this, it could be intercepted. They also warn that ex-partners may know the answers to security questions used to reset passwords.
Richard Anton, partner at growth capital firm Oxx and an experienced cyber security investor, said the issue of cyber privacy was “becoming a significant consideration in difficult personal situations like divorce”.
He added that in any partnership, whether it was business or personal, people needed to protect their data.
He recommended simple measures like regularly changing passwords, using VPN (virtual private networks) when on public WiFi, and never leaving smartphones unlocked.
“The threat of our private data being exposed and taken advantage of is higher than ever before — every individual and company should take that seriously. For this reason, cyber security companies as a whole are seeing huge interest from investors and I expect this trend will only continue to grow.”