Stalkerware incidents increase by 35% in 2019: Kaspersky

Installation attempts surpassed 37,000 in the first eight months of 2019

Stalkerware carry the possibility for intrusion into a person’s private life through their phone.
Stalkerware carry the possibility for intrusion into a person’s private life through their phone.

The number of users that encountered at least one so-called stalkerware rose by 35% compared to 2018, a new report by Kaspersky shows.

Installation attempts of this malware surpassed 37,000 in the first eight months of 2019 (from January to August 2019), according to Kaspersky’s 'The State of Stalkerware' in 2019 report. What’s more, the threat landscape for stalkerware has widened, as Kaspersky has discovered 380 variants of stalkerware in the wild in 2019 – 31% more than a year ago.

Stalkerware is commercial spyware often used as a tool for domestic espionage and carry the possibility for intrusion into a person’s private life. By using them, an abuser can access their victim’s messages, photographs, social media, geolocation and audio or camera recordings (in some cases, this can be done in real-time). Unlike legitimate parental control apps, such programs run hidden in the background, without a victim’s knowledge or consent. They are often promoted as software for spying on people’s partners.

In the first eight months of 2019, 37,532 unique users were targets of at least one attempt to infiltrate their device with stalkerware. In comparison, the figure for 2018 was 27,798 unique users. While these numbers may seem smaller than figures for other malware types (for example this equals only 9% of users attacked by financial threats detected in H1 2019), it is important to keep in mind that unlike most consumer threats, stalkerware is typically used through specifically targeting victims. Stalkerware often needs to be installed manually on the victim's phone, so the abuser needs physical access to the device.

What’s more, further variations of stalkerware have become available on the market. In the first eight months of 2018, Kaspersky detection technologies spotted 290 potentially dangerous variants, in 2019 that number has grown by almost a third, to reach 380. This change was accompanied by the notable increase in the number of events when Kaspersky products detected the software in question on user devices: in 2019 it increased by 373%, reaching 518,223. 

Among the countries in the region most affected with stalkerware are Saudi Arabia (1%), Egypt (0.7%) and UAE (0.5%).

Commenting on the stalkerware issue, Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said: “When designed to operate in complete stealth mode, with no persistent notification to the device owner, this software gives abusers and stalkers a robust tool to perpetrate harassment, monitoring, stalking, and abuse. This type of abuse can be terrifying, traumatising, and raises significant safety risks. It’s critical that we address both the availability of these apps and the use of them as a tool of abuse.”

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