Stalkerware poses higher privacy risk than ever - here's what you need to know

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The use of stalkerware to invade the privacy of mobile users skyrocketed last year, new research from security firm Kaspersky and the Coalition Against Stalkerware has suggested.

Stalkerware apps are used to track a mobile user’s GPS coordinates and intercept messages and other private information. Until late 2018, many such apps were available for free on Google Play Store - and can still be found on some third-party websites.

According to the report, the number of mobile users spied upon via stalkerware jumped by 67% worldwide, from 40,386 in 2018 to 67,500 last year. The number of attacks in the UK, meanwhile, shot up by 91%.

The report also suggests women are far more likely to fall victim to online sexual harassment and cyberstalking.

Mobile stalkerware

Depending on the variant, stalkerware functionality can include website tracing, correspondence interception, photo compromise, call tracing and browser history monitoring.

These applications are often marketed as a means of monitoring the activity of children or employees.

The most prolific stalkwerware families in 2019 were identified as Monitor.AndroidOS.MobileTracker.a, followed by Cerberus and Monitor.AndroidOS.Nidb.a.

“In order to counter this issue, it’s important for cybersecurity vendors and advocacy organisations to work together,” said Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky, Head of Anti-Malware Research at Kaspersky.

“The IT security industry gives its input by improving detection of stalkerware and better notifying users of this threat. While service and advocacy organisations directly work with victims of domestic violence, [and] know their pain points.”

In conjunction with the report, Kaspersky has released a list of five signs stalkerware might be operating in the background of a device:

- Increased data usage: If there's an inexplicable increase in data usage, it's possible an app is using internet connection to transfer logged data.

- Poor battery and slow performance: Due to constant background activity, stalkerware consumes a significant amount of memory, battery and CPU power.

- Unknown apps: Apps that appear suddenly on your device could have been installed without your knowledge.

- Suspicious background noise: Unusual background noise during a phone call could be caused by stalkerware, which sometimes has the facility to record audio.

- Your private information is no longer private: If individuals who should not have access to your personal accounts reveal knowledge of private information, it's possible they have gained access to your device.

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.