Global cybersecurity company Kaspersky has detected 222,434 installations of stalkerware on users of Windows devices, with Singapore ranked 44th in the world for number of affected users.
With International Women’s Day on the horizon, it is important to consider women’s right to privacy in the age of digital technology and reflect on how to better protect them from stalkerware that often leads to domestic abuse.
Stalkerware, also known as spouseware or “legal spyware,” is a term used to describe a particular class of spyware. These are applications sold by legally-registered companies under various pretenses, such as child monitoring or employee tracking solutions.
These applications are often installed without the device owner’s consent, to secretly stream the victim’s personal information – including images, videos, correspondence, and geolocation data – to a command server. This carries the danger of personal information being misused by third parties, such as the app owners. Almost all stalkerware is designed to monitor victims’ actions, including keyboard activity, making it extremely effective in stealing information which the user is typing online, via keylogging tactics.
Today, technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has introduced many convenient benefits, and on the other, it can also be used for other purposes such as spying on others. In the context of International Women’s Day, technology can be abused as family members and friends may resort to stalkerware to keep track of their loved ones’ activities. In extreme cases, the use of stalkerware can lead to domestic violence.
While the solution seems simple – remove the stalkerware – it is not a straightforward issue. Stalkerware is legal in some countries, which makes it illegal for a security solution to mark it as malicious and remove.
Additionally, if a person deletes stalkerware from their device, the operator (or abuser) will know immediately. Hence, this occasion serves as a timely reminder that everyone, including women, have the right to autonomous, free, and safe experience with technology.
According to Kaspersky’s latest report on digital privacy, the top three countries worldwide most affected by stalkerware are Russia (40,912), India (18,549) and Germany (15,217).
From January to August 2019, more than 518,223 cases were tracked globally when our protection technologies either registered presence of stalkerware on users’ devices or detected an attempt to install it – a staggering 373% increase from the same period in 2018.
Within Southeast Asia, Vietnam had the greatest number of users (7,219) affected by stalkerware, ranking ninth in the world in terms of share of affected users. Singapore rose six ranks to 44th, with 866 users affected. Indonesia was the only country in Southeast Asia to see a decrease in the number of users affected – from 3,381 in 2018 to 2,720 in 2019, which saw them dropping two places to 17th.
Kaspersky has since formulated a solution: a privacy alert that explicitly informs the user that a software that eavesdrops and monitors their actions has been detected on their device, complemented by significant improvements to stalkerware detection. However, there is a need to educate people on what stalkerware is, what to do if they find stalkerware on their devices, and where to go and whom to talk to.
The global cybersecurity firm has also co-founded the Coalition Against Stalkerware to help victims of stalking and domestic violence spot when their mobile phone or other device has been infected with stalkerware. The key objectives of the Coalition include improving detection and mitigation of stalkerware, educating victims and advocacy organizations about technical aspects, and of course raising awareness about the issue.
“Stalkerware, used for spying in domestic abuse or harassment situations, is a very serious problem, and often goes hand-in-hand with other forms of abuse that women are often subjected to. This International Women’s Day, we’d like to use the opportunity to increase awareness of stalkerware, remind women to actively take steps to minimise their risk of exposure to stalkerware, and empower them to educate loved ones on how to keep themselves safe,” said Yeo Siang Tiong, General Manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky.
“At Kaspersky, we believe that every person has a right to be privacy-protected. That’s why we deliver security expertise, work closely with international organizations and law enforcement agencies to fight cybercriminals, as well as develop technologies, solutions and services that help you stay safe from the cyberthreats. The measures to safeguard data are becoming more effective and complex, despite the nature and number of threats rising every day. The ability to safeguard every piece of personal data residing on our devices and the internet might sound impossible, but it is something that every individual can take control of,” he added.
To minimise risk of Stalkerware, Kaspersky recommends the following measures:
- Blocking the installation of programs from unknown sources in your smartphone’s settings
- Never disclosing the password or passcode to your mobile device, even if it is with someone you trust
- Changing all security settings on your mobile device if you are leaving a relationship. An ex may try to acquire your personal information in order to manipulate you
- Using a reliable security solution that notifies you about the presence of commercial spyware programs aimed at invading your privacy on your phone, such as Kaspersky Internet Security
- Checking for indicators of stalkerware, such as
- Changes in settings or unknown apps you do not recognize
- ‘Unknown sources’ setting ‘Enabled’ on an Android device
- Unexpected battery drain
- Active sessions on devices you did not authorize
- Webcam permissions are on for applications you did not give permission to
- If you think you are a subject of stalking and need help, contact a relevant organization for professional help