Dangerous stalkerware creeps into people’s lives and homes
Here’s a story fit for the season, although it’s definitely not fun and games. There are all kinds of dangerous and harmful apps out there, just waiting to infect your phone or computer with malicious malware. Apple and Google have recently needed to remove several dozen compromised apps from their mobile stores, apps that use adware to artificially generate revenue through fraudulent ad clicks.
Others, however, don’t even need malware to inflict incredible harm. Software known as stalkerware has seen a rise in use, and the stories that result often sound like they could be the plot to a horror movie. In one case, a wife experienced bizarre and unsettling interactions with her husband. He would seemingly allude to private texts she had made to others, or bump into her at random locations. Eventually she discovered that none of this was coincidence, nor was her mind playing tricks on her. A chance occurrence showed her that her husband indeed was getting daily reports sent to his phone from her PC, from a particular brand of spyware he had downloaded to keep tabs on her. Messages, screen activity and cameras, and even GPS locations are all monitored for the spy’s ghastly satisfaction.
The situation was ultimately resolved with a divorce and restraining order, unsurprisingly, but this individual’s was hardly an isolated incident. Other people have endured a spouse taking advantage of their stolen information to play mind games and even gaslight their soon to be ex. Research from Kaspersky detected stalkerware on over 37,000 tested devices—a 35% increase over the last year. And these figures only pertain to the sample size they examined.
A common psychological result of these insidious occurrences is a loss of trust in the very technology the person relies on every day. Victims of stalkerware have reported a newfound mistrust in their devices, leading them to take more precautions with their privacy. Not that I would ever advocate against being more vigilant with your own security, but in excess such caution can hamper a person’s life. “Technology has become, in their minds like a net around them and a lot of people do withdraw from using the internet,” says Gemma Toynton from domestic abuse charity Safer Places.
Cybersecurity is often a study in technological errors or insufficient business efforts. What we have here is something even more nefarious. More than allowing a cybercriminal to steal their information or disrupt their finances, these apps subject people to cyberstalkers who may even be those closest to them. Unfortunately there’s no great advice for prevention besides paying attention, and taking swift and decisive action if you discover you’re in the same boat as those who have already been affected.