Stalkerware: Silent Threat That Technology Uses to Control Victims of Domestic Violence

Stalkerware: Silent Threat That Technology Uses to Control Victims of Domestic Violence
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The threat posed by the spy program known as' stalkerware 'has not only not disappeared, but so far this year more than 48,000 installations have been detected on mobile devices globally, in order to monitor the victims' digital activity . 


Stalkerware is a type of spyware that remains hidden on the victim's phone and works in the background to extract data from their device, such as location, browsing history or messages . It is often used in cases of intimate partner violence, as reported by the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky and the Coalition against 'Stalkerware'. 


This malicious program is "a growing problem ", as claimed by the Coalition. In 2019, Kaspersky detected a 67 percent annual increase in the use of this type of 'software' on the mobile devices of its users worldwide. 


The number of 'stalkerware' installations worldwide between January and October 2020 amounted to more than 48,500 , very close to the total (almost 52,000 installations) observed during the same period in 2019. However, and as pointed out by Kaspersky in In a statement, this "slight decrease in numbers compared to last year" does not mean that there are signs that stalkerware is disappearing.



DETECT THE 'STALKERWARE' ON THE VICTIM'S MOBILE

To commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women , which is celebrated this Wednesday, November 25, and coinciding with the first anniversary of the founding of the Coalition against Stalkerware, Kaspersky has launched a special tool for the detection of 'stalkerware' and other spyware installed on victims' mobile devices. 


It is ' TinyCheck' , a simple tool developed by the security researcher of the Kaspersky Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT), Félix Aimé. The idea came, as she explains, in a conversation with an NGO dedicated to the protection of women's rights in France. "The group wanted to help people who suspect that stalkerware is running on their devices , without having to install additional applications or perform forensic analysis." 


This easy-to-use , open source tool is based on the Raspberry Pi, and uses a normal WiFi connection to scan outgoing mobile device traffic and identify interactions with known malicious sources, such as spyware-related servers. 


The goal of TinyCheck is to help non-profit organizations, such as service providers, support victims of domestic violence to protect these individuals and their privacy. The first version of this open source tool is now available on GitHub .



FIGHT AGAINST ABUSE IN NEW TECHNOLOGIES

The Coalition Against Stalkerware was born in November last year with the purpose of fighting against abuse based on new technologies . It aims to unite both organizations working to combat domestic violence and the IT security community, and currently has 26 members. 


In this time, the alliance assures that "it has learned a lot." "Now we understand that 'stalkerware' is not a purely technical problem . The challenge is not technology, but the commercial availability of 'stalkerware', the lack of regulations on its use and, perhaps, the most difficult problem, the fact that violence against women and different forms of abuse 'online' have been normalized, "says Kaspersky Senior Director of External Relations Christina Jankowski. 


"We can provide technical training on the different forms of abuse enabled by technology for non-profit organizations, but it is not enough; it must be complemented by an understanding of the psychological impact on victims, " adds Jankowski. 


In line with the commitment to raising public awareness and educating service providers about stalkerware, Coalition members have focused on holding public events and sharing knowledge with experts . As part of their work, members of the Coalition have planned some activities in support of the United Nations '16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence '. This includes the launch, by the 'European Network for working with perpetrators of domestic violence' (WWP EN), of a campaign to raise awareness about cyber violence against women and girls, which has support from Kaspersky.



WHAT TO DO IF THE ACTIVITY OF A 'STALKERWARE' IS SUSPECTED

If users suspect that they may be affected or that they are being affected by a 'stalkerware' program, Kaspersky advises contacting local support organizations or the Police for professional help. 


The Coalition Against Stalkerware offers a list of support organizations, where they have also shared an explanatory video -available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish- with useful information so that victims understand and better detect the warning signs of harassment . 


It is also recommended to use a proven cybersecurity solution , such as Kaspersky Internet Security, to check the device and find out if a 'stalkerware' program has been installed on it.

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