As some people try to digitally control the lives of their intimate partners, nearly 4,627 mobile users in India have been found to be the victim of stalkerware—a secret surveillance software used in the field of domestic violence, a new report revealed on Tuesday. This figure would have had been much higher in the absence of lockdowns and the pandemic that led millions to stay indoors in the country.
S talkerware apps are generally disguised under a fake app name with suspicious access to messages, call logs, location, and other personal activity.
For example, an app called “Wi-Fi” that has access to your geolocation is a suspicious candidate, according to cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.
“We see the number of users affected by stalkerware has remained high and we detect new samples every day. It’s important to remember that there is somebody’s real life story behind all these numbers, and sometimes there is a silent call for help,” said Victor Chebyshev, Research Development Team Lead, Kaspersky.
“It is clear that we all need to share what we are finding so we can further improve detection and protection for the benefit of those affected by cyberviolence,” comments Victor Chebyshev, Research Development Team Lead, Kaspersky.
Stalkerware is a form of cyberviolence, and a global phenomenon that affects countries regardless of size, society, or culture.
In 2020, a total of 53,870 mobile users were affected globally by stalkerware.
In 2019, Kaspersky discovered 67,500 affected mobile users.
“It is unsurprising that the yearly curve of users affected by stalkerware globally shows a decline in reports from March to June 2020, before numbers began to stabilise thereafter. This coincides with the beginning of worldwide lockdowns, and later when many countries around the world began to ease restrictions,” the report mentioned.
Mobile users can check if their mobile device has stalkerware installed.
“Delete apps that are no longer being used. If the app has not been opened in a month or more, it is probably safe to assume it is no longer needed; and if this changes in the future, it can always be reinstalled,” the report mentioned.
Check “unknown sources” settings on Android devices.
If “unknown sources” are enabled on your device, it might be a sign that unwanted software was installed from a third-party source.
“To download stalkerware, the abuser will have to visit some web pages the affected user does not know about. Alternatively, there could be no history at all if the abuser wiped it,” it added.
Do not rush to remove stalkerware if found on the device as the abuser may notice.
“It is very important to consider that the abuser may be a potential safety risk. In some cases, the person may escalate his abusive behaviour in response”, the company suggested.
In 2019, Kaspersky co-founded, along with nine other organisations, the ‘Coalition Against Stalkerware’ which now has 30 members from five continents.
In November last year, the company released a free anti-stalkerware tool called TinyCheck in order to help non-profit organisations support victims of domestic violence and protect their privacy.