Digital violence through stalkerware showing little sign of slowing

Digital violence through stalkerware showing little sign of slowing


09 March 2023

Stalkerware is secret surveillance software used by domestic abusers and others to track victims. The State of Stalkerware is an annual report by Kaspersky that aims to provide a better understanding of the number of people globally who are affected by this form of digital stalking. In 2022, according to Kaspersky data, 29,312 unique individuals around the world were affected by stalkerware, a number which is consistent with the 32,694 users affected in 2021. After a sustained downward trend in the years prior to 2021, this relative stability highlights the global scale of digital stalking, and suggests that the problem is not going away on its own.

According to the Kaspersky Security Network in 2022, Russia, Brazil, India, Iran, and the United States of America were the top five countries most affected by stalkerware. These countries were followed by Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and, lastly, Mexico in a list of the ten most affected nations. Overall, Kaspersky detected stalkerware cases in 176 countries around the world, proving that digital stalking continues to be a global phenomenon affecting all countries.

Digital violence and the need to act on it

Stalkerware is a commercially available software that can be discretely installed on smartphone devices, enabling perpetrators to watch every step of an individual’s private life without their knowledge. As the perpetrator requires physical access (and codes) to a device, stalkerware is often used in abusive relationships. Although the data gathered by Kaspersky is anonymized, 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 the victims.

Dr. Leonie Maria Tanczer, associate professor at university college London (UCL) and head of UCL’s Gender and Tech Research Group points to the relevance of Kaspersky’s research.

It’s critical to have data on stalkerware available because quantitative evidence on the scale and nature of technology-enabled forms of coercion and control remains limited. Whilst the report only offers insights on mobile users using Kaspersky’s IT security solutions, we can anticipate that the full extent of stalkerware usage is much bigger. These are consequently worrying but useful figures that can help provide incentives for research, industry, and practice to speed up the development of both legal and technical mitigation strategies that increase not only the detection but also the deployment of surveillance software.

Kaspersky is actively working to improve the protection of users. As part of this effort, Kaspersky has updated its Privacy Alert – a notification if stalkerware is found 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 stalkerware is removed, the person who installed the software will be alerted. Since it was introduced in 2019, Kaspersky’s Privacy Alert has been included in all of the company’s consumer security solutions to protect against stalkerware.

Christina Jankowski, senior external relations manager at Kaspersky, said:

Thousands of people every year are victims of 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 address the problem. Aside from raising awareness, sharing our expertise, and working with partners, Kaspersky has now updated its Privacy Alert to users if stalkerware is found on their devices so that they will now be made aware that a perpetrator will notice if the software is removed. The reason behind this is simple: if the software is deleted it erases proof that stalkerware has been installed, and if a perpetrator loses control over a device, the situation might escalate. Our mission is to ensure that victims understand the best course of action to deliver the safest possible outcome, and reverse the trend against this form of digital violence.

Kaspersky works with experts and organizations in the field of domestic violence, ranging from victim support services and perpetrator programs through to research and government agencies, to share knowledge and support both professionals and victims. Kaspersky is one of the co-founders of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, an international group dedicated to tackling stalkerware and combating domestic violence. From 2021-2023, Kaspersky was a consortium partner of the EU project DeStalk, co-funded by the Rights, Equality, and Citizenship Program of the European Union. In June 2022, Kaspersky launched a website to share further information about TinyCheck, a free, safe and easy-to-use tool to check devices for stalkerware and monitoring apps.

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