Stalkerware: Is there a spy chasing you without you knowing?

Stalkerware is software that can be discreetly installed on smartphones, allowing stalkers to observe every step of an individual’s private life without their knowledge. Will it be your case?

The “State of Stalkerware” is an annual report by Kaspersky that aims to provide a better understanding of the number of people globally affected by this type of digital stalking.

In 2022, Kaspersky data reveals that 29,312 unique individuals worldwide were affected by stalkerware, a number that is consistent with the 32,694 users affected in 2021.

After a sustained downward trend in the years leading up to 2021, this relative stability highlights digital stalking on a global scale, and suggests that the problem is not going away by itself. According to Kaspersky Security Network in 2022, Russia, Brazil, India, Iran, and the United States of America were the five countries most affected by persecution. Stalkerware is secret surveillance software by home users to locate victims.

These countries were followed by Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and, finally, Mexico, in a list of the ten most affected nations. Globally, Kaspersky detected cases of stalkerware in 176 countries around the world, proving that digital stalking remains a global phenomenon that affects all countries. In Europe, the total number of unique users affected in 2022 was 3,158.

The three most affected countries in Europe were Germany (737), Italy (405) and France (365). Compared to 2021, all countries up to seventh place on the list (Netherlands) continue to appear as the most affected countries in Europe.

New entrants to the list are Switzerland, Austria and Greece. In terms of regional data in the Iberian Peninsula, around 296 affected users were detected, placing this region in 5th position in the European ranking.

1st – Germany – 736 users affected

2nd – Italy – 405 users affected

3rd – France – 365 users affected

4th – Great Britain – 313 users affected

5th – Iberian Peninsula – 296 users affected

Kaspersky explains that Stalkerware is commercially available software that can be discreetly installed on smartphone devices, allowing stalkers to observe every step of an individual’s private life without their knowledge.

Because stalking requires physical access (and codes) to a device, stalkerware is often used in abusive relationships. Although the data collected by Kaspersky is anonymous, other research has shown that it is mainly women who are affected by this form of digital violence.

“It is important to remember that digital violence is another dimension of violence, and needs to be understood as a continuum of offline violence with real and negative effects on victims”, stresses Kaspersky.

“Data on persecution is critical because quantitative evidence on the scale and nature of technologically enabled forms of coercion and control remains limited. Although the report only provides information on mobile phone users using Kaspersky’s IT security solutions, we can anticipate that the total extent of stalkerware usage is much higher. These are therefore sobering but useful numbers that can help provide incentives for research, industry and practice to accelerate the development of both legal and technical mitigation strategies that increase not only detection but also deployment of surveillance software.” , says Leonie Maria Tanczer, Associate Professor at University College London (UCL) and head of the Gender and Technology Research Group at UCL. Kaspersky is working to improve user protection.

As part of this effort, Kaspersky has updated its Privacy Alert – a notification that alerts you to the presence of stalkerware on a device. The update means that the notification now not only informs the user about the presence of stalkerware on the device, but also warns the user that if the stalkerware is removed, the person who installed the software will be alerted.

“Thousands of people every year fall victim to stalkerware. Given its clear link to violence, this is a worrying trend, which is why we are working at different ends of the spectrum to tackle the problem. In addition to raising awareness, sharing our expertise and working with partners, Kaspersky has now updated its Privacy Alert to users if stalking software is found on their devices, so that they are now aware that a perpetrator will notice if the software is removed. The reason behind this is simple: if the software is deleted, it erases the evidence that the stalkerware was installed, and if a perpetrator loses control over a device, the situation can get worse. Our mission is to ensure that victims understand the best course of action to obtain the safest possible outcome, and to reverse the trend against this form of digital violence,” said Christina Jankowski, Senior External Relations Manager at Kaspersky.