Heard of stalkerware? Well, it is a form of “cyberviolence”, a type of spyware, and a global phenomenon that affects countries regardless of size, society, or culture.
And as per a recent report from Kaspersky, the anti-virus major that tracks these things, India is globally ranked fourth among the victim nations.
Russia, Brazil, the United States of America, India and Mexico are at the top of Kaspersky’s 2020 list of countries where users are most impacted. Below them, Germany is the first European country, occupying sixth place in the global rankings. Iran, Italy, the United Kingdom and, lastly, Saudi Arabia complete the ten most affected nations.
The report, titled “The State of Stalkerware 2020”, said a total of 53,870 mobile users were hit globally. In India, the number was 4,627. Russia had 12,389 users affected by stalkerware. It was followed by Brazil 6,523 and the US 4,745. Mexico with 1,570 cases was the fifth most impacted country.
The rise of stalkerware in India should be read in the backdrop of the government revealing in Parliament this year that “over 93,000 cybercrimes related to fraud, sexual exploitation and spreading of hate have been registered in the country between 2017 and 2019.”
How stalkerware works
Stalkerware is a growing category of domestic malware with disturbing and dangerous implications.
“We see the number of users affected by stalkerware has remained high and we detect new samples every day,” Victor Chebyshev, research development team lead, Kaspersky said in a statement.
While spyware and infostealers seek to steal personal data, stalkerware is different: it steals the physical and online freedom of the victim. Usually installed secretly on mobile phones by so-called friends, jealous spouses, ex-partners, and even concerned parents, stalkerware tracks the physical location of the victim, monitors sites visited on the internet, text messages and phone calls, undermining a person’s individual liberty and online freedom.
Most of these apps either operate under fake names or run in invisible mode (won’t show in the app drawer like other apps) to avoid detection. Stalkerware apps can be easily found online or on third party Android stores, the report said. For example, an app called “Wi-Fi” that has access to your geolocation is a suspicious candidate.
How to avoid stalkerware
Users by being more vigilant can stay away from stalkerware.
The Kaspersky report suggests users to 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.
Mobile users are also better off by checking “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.”
It is also suggested to check browser history. “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,” the report said.