Stalkerware – secret surveillance software used in the field of domestic violence – remains a significant problem, according to a new Kaspersky report
Stalkerware – secret surveillance software used in the field of domestic violence – remains a significant problem, according to a new Kaspersky report which found that a total of 53,870 mobile users were affected globally by stalkerware in 2020.
The recent Kaspersky report, “The State of Stalkerware 2020”, shows that the situation has not improved compared to the year before - in 2019, we discovered 67,500 affected mobile users. At the same time, when talking about improvements, it is important to take the start of the pandemic into account as stalkerware is often used to digitally control the life of an intimate partner. With this in mind, 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 stabilize thereafter. This coincides with the beginning of worldwide lockdowns, and later when many countries around the world began to ease restrictions.
Global dimension of stalkerware
Stalkerware is a form of cyberviolence, and a global phenomenon that affects countries regardless of size, society, or culture: 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.
“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. Therefore, we are sharing our part of the picture, with the community working to end the use of stalkerware in order to have a better understanding of the issue. 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 cyber violence,” comments Victor Chebyshev, Research Development Team Lead, at Kaspersky.
Action against cyber violence
Since 2021, Kaspersky has joined forces with four partners to work on the EU-wide “DeStalk” project, which the European Commission chose to support with its Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program.
Prior to DeStalk in 2019, Kaspersky co-founded, along with nine other organizations, the Coalition Against Stalkerware, which now has 30 members from five continents. The Coalition aims to improve industry detection of stalkerware, mutual learning from non-profit organizations and companies, and raise public awareness.
"The member organizations in the Coalition Against Stalkerware have made tremendous strides in the last year, including awareness-raising, detection of stalkerware, and research into the daily lives of survivors of domestic abuse. The Coalition has enabled us to take a holistic approach to a complex problem. There is no simple solution and we must keep pushing forward on many fronts," said Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity, Electronic Frontier Foundation, when commenting on the Coalition’s first anniversary.
Additionally, in November 2020, Kaspersky released a free anti-stalkerware tool called TinyCheck in order to help non-profit organizations support victims of domestic violence and protect their privacy. Its unique feature revolves around being able to detect stalkerware and inform affected users without making the perpetrator aware. The tool is supported by the IT security community and constantly updated with the help of that community.
Users can check if their mobile device has stalkerware installed by looking for the following signs:
Before removing stalkerware from a device: