Stalkerware is on the rise and ignored by Google and Apple, researchers claim

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Stalkerware is an emerging type of software misused as malware, targeting phones or other mobile devices in order to secretly monitor personal communications and data.

Given the nature of the mobile devices and the type of information contained and exchanged on them, the lack of awareness of this type of threat, the harm from this can potentially be very serious.

Security firm Kaspersky is reporting about stalkerware and its efforts to combat it, noting an increase in both its range and the presence in 2019 – with installation attempts increasing to 37,000, up 35 percent from the previous year.

And while stalkerware has a catchy “internet” name – there is no precise definition of stalkerware that the security industry agrees on, and, according to Kaspersky, that hampers the effort to suppress it.

Some of the uncertainty in classifying the malware seems to stem from confusing it with legitimate software such as that used to enforce parental controls.

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But Kaspersky said the difference is obvious: while parental control apps act to prevent access to unwanted content – while notifying the user of any attempts to access it – the technique is turned on its head with stalkerware, when it gives abusers a surveillance tool to “spy on a victim, without the consent of an individual.”

Among those using this type of software to their advantage are domestic abusers who leverage their partner's digital footprint for physical control.

Kaspersky is not the only company trying to do something about this type of digital threat: another is Malwarebytes, who is working to raise awareness about the problem this month.

The security company explains on its website that stalkerware victims have their locations and communications, including texts, calls, photos, and browser activity tracked and exposed to attackers.

And while Malwarebytes has decided to develop ways to detect and fight against this type of software, it is also warning that many in the industry are still ignoring the threat – because big platforms, such as Apple's Appe Store and Google Play allow many of these apps, that are “marketed as harmless child-monitoring software.”

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Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovich is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovich is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]