Stalkerware Usage in on the Rise as Domestic Violence Rates Surge During Lockdown

News and Analysis

The global deployment of spy and stalking applications has surged by as much as 51% since the world’s governments introduced the lockdown in March, 2020. Stalkerware is software or apps designed to monitor and track the target person’s location, intercept emails, messages, and eavesdrop on phone calls without the victim’s consent, among other things.

The findings were released by cybersecurity firm Avast on July 8, detailing that since March, in the United States alone, the company has protected more than 3,500 users from spyware apps, which marked the monthly average rate increase by 62% when compared to the first two months of the current year.

Another Way to Exert Control Over People

At a global scale, Avast has protected more than 43,000 users from stalkerware, with 3,531 users have been targeted in the U.S., 3,332 in India, and 3,048 in Brazil, since March.

Avast attributed the surge in the stalkerware usage to the increase in domestic violence during lockdown, which has jumped by over 10% in the U.S., since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

The cybersecurity firm noted in the release that spy- and stalkerware apps are just another way for abusers to have control over their victims. Jaya Baloo, CISO at Avast, said:

“Stalkerware is a growing category of domestic malware with disturbing and dangerous implications. 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 abusive spouses, ex-partners, so-called friends, 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.”

To avoid being spied, Avast advised to secure your phone against unauthorised physical access, install a good antivirus software on your phone and look for hotlines and victims’ services providers.

Concerns About Avast’s User Privacy Policy

Interestingly, Avast found itself in the crosshairs for harvesting user data to subsequently sell it to marketers, earlier this year. Although the antivirus provider assured that “the data is fully de-identified and aggregated and cannot be used to personally identify or target you,” it eventually could be linked back to users’ real identities. This reportedly enabled the company to expose every click and search made by users.

Moreover, security researcher Wladimir Palant discovered that Avast browser extensions were logging every website visited by the user alongside a user ID and sending the data to the company, last October.

In the meantime, tech Giant Google is going to update its Google Ads Enabling Dishonest Behavior policy, which will ban the promotion of products and services that allow a user to get access to other users’ devices, systems or property. This will include products such as hacking services, stealing cable, radar jammers, changing traffic signals, phone or wire-tapping.

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