A Nov. 26 report in Israel Defense reported that digital security company Avast named stalkerware as one of the main cyber threats of 2020 along with other threats such as COVID-19 scams, deepfakes, phishing attacks and ransomware. It said the malware was “typically installed secretly on mobile phones by so-called friends, jealous spouses and partners, ex-partners, and even concerned parents.”
In response, special groups have been springing up all over the place to fight this type of digital abuse. A stunning case in point: Coalition Against Stalkware (CAS), an anti-abuse group which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
The group has grown from strength to strength: it doubled its membership and joined partners such as mobile security companies and other organizations working to protect users’ safety. Ruzana Meretukova, a CAS author, marked the coalition’s one-year occasion by summing up key findings along the way.
For starters, the attacks of this nature are on the rise. In 2019, Kaspersky detected a 67% year-on-year increase of stalkerware usage on its users’ mobile devices at a global level. The number of stalkerware installations worldwide during the first 10 months of 2020 (from January to October) totaled more than 48,500, close to the total (almost 52,000 installations) over the same period in 2019.
The pandemic has also had an impact on the numbers. Meretukova says there was a rise in stalkerware detections starting back in March. So, what does this group do to counter stalkerware? Activities include speeches, publications, research, and collecting cybersecurity vendor data on stalkerware.
Defining the enemy
Another important contribution from the group is simply coming up with a precise definition of what exactly is stalkerware. So, what is it?
The Coalition’s definition sought to flesh out the concept referring to any app or program that does invade or is perceived to invade a person’s privacy, and a definition rather than the use of phrases that have made the rounds like ‘spouseware’ or ‘creepware.’
They ultimately define stalkerware as “software, made available directly to individuals, that enables a remote user to monitor the activities on another user’s device without that user’s consent and without explicit, persistent notification to that user in a manner that may facilitate intimate partner surveillance, harassment, abuse, stalking, and/or violence.”
Kaspersky Lab emphasized that people should not only know what it is is but also be proactive by recognizing signals that spell trouble.
While symptoms are not definite proof, it doesn’t hurt to trust your gut feeling (especially if it’s backed by a few clues) and make a safety plan. “Part of this safety plan could be to reach out to organizations working with victims of domestic violence,” Kaspersky notes.
Some of the common symptoms Kaspersky Daily listed as indicating the possibility of stalkerware on a device:
- A battery that drains fast.
- Overheating that’s constant.
- Resets that were not prompted.
- A big rise in mobile data use.
- If others recently had physical access to your phone.
- Applications with suspicious access to GPS tracking and other personal activities.
One anti-stalkerware tool recently was presented in Memeburn. That tool is called TinyCheck, which leans on Raspberry Pi and is open source. The good news: The perpetrator cannot tell you were putting it to work, yet it can detect any stalkerware installed on your phone or tablet.
TinyCheck is an open-source tool that relies on Rasberry Pi. It can detect stalkerware and spyware installed on smartphones and tablets, without making the perpetrator aware that such a check is being carried out. TinyCheck was developed by Félix Aimé, a security researcher, and it is available for free on GitHub for everyone to access.
Whether we like it or not, it looks like we’ll be spending a lot more time working remotely from home. Being aware of problems such as stalkerware and taking protective measures is definitely a part of a healthy online hygiene.