There’s no denying the fact that technology has made our lives easier. And while there are numerous pros of technology, losing control of privacy is one big con (more like a price we pay) we have to deal with for using technology. The State of Stalkerware report by Kaspersky found that 53,870 of their mobile users across the globe were affected by stalkerware apps in the year 2020 . It also found that countries most affected by stalkware apps or spyware apps are Russia, Brazil and the United States of America.
Moreover, a NortonLifeLock study that surveyed more than 10,000 adults across 10 countries found that about 86% of the adults surveyed were not aware about stalkerware apps or had only heard of its name .
In this blog, you’ll understand what exactly stalkerware apps are, how you can know for sure if you are being digitally ‘stalked’ and how you can protect yourself from a spyware app.
What are stalkerware apps?
Stalkerware apps are software programs and devices that allow cybercriminals or other people to secretly monitor as well as record your device’s activity and information. These spyware apps are invasive and intrusive because they are installed on your phone without your knowledge and consent. Stalkerware apps are used by abusers for accessing:
- Real-time location
- Call logs
- Camera (to watch you and your surroundings)
- Microphone (to listen to you)
How to scan your phone for stalkerware apps
1. Inspect your app permissions
To check whether your phone has stalkerware apps installed, closely review the permissions you’ve granted to applications. You can do so by going to phone settings. If you find certain apps you’ve given a broad variety of app permissions to, that could be suspicious. You can use apps like “F-Secure SAFE” to easily review your app permissions.
2. Scan your phone’s admin app list
In the Settings of your Android phone, check Security Settings and look for any applications that you don’t recall downloading. If you find any such apps, further investigate what they actually are.
3. Leverage online resources on stalkerware apps
There are tons of resources available that talk about stalkware apps. You can visit websites like Coalition Against Stalkerware that teach you how to identify the existence of stalkerware apps on your device and what to do to protect yourself.
How to protect yourself from stalkerware apps?
1. Make sure your phone has passcodes or passwords
Most stalkerware apps need physical access. Meaning, the app needs to be installed on your phone to get access. Make sure you place a strong passcode lock on your device to eliminate the risk of an abuser installing spyware on your device. Make sure you don’t share the passcode with anyone.
Moreover, be very cautious if you give your phone to someone to fix an issue on your phone. Trust your intuition. If you had given your phone for getting something fixed to someone, try to gauge if there’s something suspicious or if there’s increased stalking or monitoring.
2. Change these passwords often
You’ve set a passcode/password? Good. But it is also important to keep changing this password frequently, for your phone as well as your online accounts, to avoid un-permitted access. Always use strong and complex passwords for all your accounts that are easy for you to remember yet tough for cyber criminals to guess. Don’t save these passwords on your device.
3. Use two-factor authentication to protect your device from stalkerware apps
For any digital account that gives you the option, always go for two-factor authentication to protect yourself from stalkerware apps. This form of security requires 2 forms of identity verification before allowing you to log into your account.
Say, for instance, you’re trying to enter your Instagram account.
Step 1: Instagram asks you to enter your username and password
Step 2 Instagram asks you to enter an OTP (One Time Password) generated by an authentication app
With this added layer of protection, even if the intruder gets their hands on your password using the stalkerware, they still won’t be able to log in without that temporary code.
4. Update your phone’s software as and when required
Google and Apple often keep issuing software updates for their Android and iOS devices. These updates include important security fixes that are designed to remove and stalkerware apps from your phone. So, make sure your device is always updated to its latest, updated software version.
5. Use anti-spyware and antivirus software protection
Anti-spyware is a software designed to detect and eliminate unwanted spyware programs and stalkerware apps on devices. Anti-spyware apps and software perform routine checks on your devices to make sure your systems are safe and secure. It ensures your privacy is protected from any possible intrusions.
Antivirus is a program (or set of programs) designed to detect, look for, prevent and remove software viruses as well as other malicious software such as trojans, worms, and adware. Antivirus is critical for any user and device. It also needs to be updated regularly because a device without antivirus protection is prone to be infected within seconds of connecting to the internet.
Antivirus protects you from malicious online activities by scanning specific files and directories for any malware or any known malicious patterns. It also allows you to schedule scans on your devices to automatically run for you.
6. Leverage security features your phone offers
Most Android devices have security settings that enable installation from sources unknown. Turning this setting off minimizes the chances of applications outside of Google Play Store from being downloaded on the phone. You can also switch on Google Play Protect on Android phones. Google Play Protect scans for apps for you with malware and viruses. This can protect your device from most spyware and stalkerware apps.
7. Do not jailbreak or root your phone
Smartphones, be it Android or iOS, come with operating system limitations and restrictions by mobile carriers. By ‘jailbreaking’ on iOS and ‘rooting’ for Android, your device bypasses those restrictions and enables more customization.
Avoid jailbreaking and rooting because such devices are more prone and vulnerable to viruses and make it easier for stalkerware apps and spyware to be installed. Moreover, many more invasive stalkerware apps and features do not work unless the device is jailbroken or rooted. On iPhones, most stalkerware apps cannot be installed unless the phone is jailbroken.
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 Kaspersky & Coalition Against Stalkerware (2020) “The State of Stalkerware in 2020” [Online] Available from: https://media.kasperskycontenthub.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/100/2020/03/25175212/EN_The-State-of-Stalkerware-2020.pdf [Accessed November 2021]
 Norton (2021) “Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report” [Online] Available from: https://us.norton.com/nortonlifelock-cyber-safety-report?_gl=1*9bq3pd*_ga4_ga*LU1vN0QxTzBPOFN6VndMT1k4QWY.*_ga4_ga_KKPP18MZ8Y*MTYzNjUzMzA4Ni4zLjAuMTYzNjUzMzA4Ni42MA.. [Accessed November 2021]