Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | September 7, 2010

Things Your Ex Knows

You, my faithful readers, have been amazingly helpful about giving me excellent food for thought. I’d like to return the favor. This topic has been on my mind ever since a friend of mine went through a nasty divorce a few years ago, at the same time that cyber security became the focal point of work I was doing for one of my clients.

So, here is some information you may want to take to heart. It’s about protecting your electronic privacy from your ex. (Or, your soon-to-be-ex.)

I picked up a new “smart phone” recently. My first “smart phone” ever. It can do all sorts of things. Like, for example, allow me to post blog entries from my phone. Or check my g-mail account (feel free to e-mail me, dear readers, at it never rains in seattle atsign gmail dot com. All one word. You know the drill.) Or check my regular e-mail account. Or text message anyone. Or instant message via any number of IM platforms.

It can also get me into big trouble. I still share this (soon to be foreclosed) house with my (soon to be ex) wife. Haven’t moved out yet. (Although I have started looking at local houses for rent, now that I’ve become completely depressed by looking at a bunch of local apartment complexes.) Penny and I still get along and are doing what we can to make this an amicable split. And as you know… I started this blog in an effort to figure things out. It’s been great for that. But it wouldn’t be such a good thing if she were to discover this site. There are no state secrets here… but it’s a place for me to work out my own damn stuff, and I don’t need her here in it. You know?

So I need to be discreet. I do check my gmail account on that so-called smart phone, but I log out as soon as I’m done. I never click “remember my login”. I don’t blog from my phone. Basic stuff. Does she go through my phone? I don’t think so. But she could. Back in my days as in radio, I learned to treat any mic as if it were “live.” The same is true today with computers, phones, address books, calendars, and wallets. If someone were to rifle through it, what would they find? What could they learn?

Penny and I, as I said, have a basically amicable relationship. Since I don’t really have that much to hide, I haven’t been going out of my way to be super secret with how I handle my online life. That said… I’ve been following some policies that anyone in the midst of break-up should keep in mind.

First: change your passwords.

(Do I hear a chorus of “Well, duh!?”)

Second: change your security questions.

(Do I hear… crickets in the background?)

Here’s how someone I know had her AOL account hijacked: she had a reasonably hard-to-figure-out password, but AOL, like many sites, had a “security question” that she could answer in case she “forgot” her password. One such question was something like, “What was your first car?”

The person who hijacked her account wasn’t an Ex (who would obviously know the answer), but a cyber-stalker who, when confronted with the question “What was your first car?”, googled her name and “first car”. And found the answer on a blog entry somewhere. Presto! Instant opportunity to reset her password. And then log in and take over her account.

The thing is, your significant other doesn’t have to look most of that stuff up, as a general rule. He or she knows your father’s middle name, where you were born, and probably the name of your high school or favorite beverage. So if you are in the midst of a break-up, you need to keep this in mind. It’s not enough to change your password.

Review your security questions. Make sure that if you “forget” your password, the password will be sent to you in an e-mail rather than allowing instant access by answering the security questions on-site (some sites offer more than one option. Some don’t.) Try to choose questions that are not likely to be searchable online… or known to your Ex. You might even do what a friend of mine does; answer the questions with the wrong answer. For example, always answer the questions with the answers your sister might give. (This won’t work for mother’s maiden name, but would for first car, first date, favorite pet, etc.).

Security questions are like the combination code on your garage door opener. While you need to change the locks on the house, most people don’t think about changing the combo on their garage door opener. You are only as secure as the least secure entry that protects you.



  1. I was actually talking to my banker about this a few days ago as they changed their password requirements and I had to call to reset everything. When I stated that I had no idea what my favourite milkshake was a year ago, he suggested answering all of the questions the same, with a random word like “banana”.

    Oh, and in regards to the smartphone… Do you have a password on it?

  2. Good advice – it’s funny that you mention the password thing….I know for a fact (because he has told me) that my ex uses a particular password he used when we were married for everything, PIN number etc, to this day. If I were evil, I could do all sorts of things, but alas, I am not, nor would I ever do that, but that’s another thing worth noting – if your passwords are things that you and your ex both used (I didn’t use the same as his, but just an example), that could be dangerous as well. And yes, to IntrigueMe’s point – I hope your phone is password protected!

  3. yep. i’ve done all of this stuff. password change, new security questions, the whole nine. and honestly, that was one of the saddest things about the whole process for me. it really felt like slamming the door on everything when i cut off his access.

  4. Your passwords should make no sense…and have no real correlation to your actual life. Being more evil than most (I guess) I was able to just “guess” passwords on everything for my ex…(they were all different) AND for his new girlfriend. At the time, all I had was her first name. It was like a jugsaw puzzle, half the fun was getting from one clue to another. I learned MUCH more than passwords in that process. You’d be shocked at how much of your personal life is online.
    That was 7 years ago, and although it was fun, I doubt I’d do anything like that again…even though I think it would be much easier today.
    So, INRIS is right…!

  5. WOW! Great advice! I never thought of some of this stuff.

    And you? Good luck on the home search.

    Big hugs!

  6. Good advice! Lucky for me, most of the things my ex wouldn’t know the answer to (like my father’s middle name or what my first car was). It just wasn’t ever stuff that came up. For many of the questions I do try to come up with some offbeat answers that aren’t necessarily that easy to guess.

  7. I’m a little sensitive to personal security issues right now due to a failed attempt at burglarizing my home. It thus appears to me that separating from a significant other is no different than risking one’s possessions to the random infiltration of an outsider.

    Think about what such security measures mean: an artificial defensive separation from one’s significant other should the worst occur. It speaks volumes about our society that this should even be necessary. We can no longer completely open ourselves to anyone lest our trust be violated, and yet the lack of trust is one of the biggest reasons relationships fail.

    Across the globe, there has been a fair amount of discussion regarding marriage and whether it is obsolete. I am of the opinion that it is for reasons that include this post’s topic. This of course opens a Pandora’s Box of legal issues regarding property ownership and child custody and responsibility, but as long as two people can no longer bond as tightly as was once possible, change is going to have to happen in our marital customs and obligations. How these obligations are to be deemed met will likely require the use of lawyers drawing up contracts specifying the details. The big stars are already doing this (J-Lo comes to mind), so maybe the Future is already Present.

  8. Lots of really good advice here. I never thought about all this. Wow.

    PS. Miss you!

  9. Yesterday, when I turned on my cell phone, there was a message from the provider, stating that “There were 3 failed attempts to gain access to your voice mail on (date) from phone number – – – – – – – -.”
    I was SHOCKED. I didn’t recognize the phone number, so I called it, (blocking MY number) and some guy answered. He told me he has been trying his own voice mail from a remote phone. He said his ph# was ______ and it was only one number off from mine. Then again, if he DID try to highjack my voice mail, he KNOWS my ph#, so he would know to say that.
    I immediately changed my password to a much longer and more complicated one, and erased all saved messages. I am STILL FREAKED OUT.
    (Payback’s a bitch, huh? LOL LOL LOL)

  10. Good point, I hadn’t thought of the security question. That’s probably how Man Friend hacked into my email… Thanks for the tip!

  11. makes me think of this:

  12. great advice, though i have to say this is how i caught my husband cheating. yes…i know bad thing to do… to check his FB account while he was at work, but i did because deep down i knew something was up, and it was. while part of me wants to love this advice, part of me is afraid he will figure out these things and leave me out of the loop. though i am in forgiveness phase now, (and the therapist says i need to stop playing detective) but i have yet to fully trust him again, (working on it) so i do all of these things that are intrusive. 😦

    (i guess this is my confession! thanks for listening) i check his blackberry for texts, his FB and his gmail. sigh. i would be horrified if he find my blog though! double standard maybe?!

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