Stalkerware activity increased
Avast Analysts warnthat during the quarantine period, from March to June 2020, the use of spyware (including those that were installed silently from the user) in the world increased by 51% compared with January-February 2020. Since March 2020, Avast has protected more than 1094 users from stalkerware in Russia.
Let me remind you that the term stalkerware usually refers to commercial spyware, which is positioned as legal. With it, you can access personal data stored on smartphones and tablets of other users. Spyware allows you to intercept emails, text messages and messages in instant messengers, as well as listen to phone calls and make hidden recordings of conversations.
Stalkerware often disguises itself as parental control applications, employee monitoring software, and even remote access tools for the corporate sector. Such software, as a rule, is used for secret surveillance of people, including the initiators of domestic violence, and therefore often carries serious risks for those on whose devices it is installed.
The Avast Threat Labs team has identified an increase in this online threat amid growing physical violence in families during quarantine. For example, the director of the Anna crisis center in Russia reported that the number of visits to crisis centers from victims of domestic violence increased by 25% in March. In May 2020, the number of calls to the All-Russian helpline for women grew by 74% compared to February. The executive director of UN Women, Fumzile Mlambo-Ngkuka, has even called what is happening a “shadow epidemic” of coronavirus.
“Stalkerware is a growing category of malware that has disturbing, dangerous consequences,” said Jaya Balu, Avast IT Director. –– While spyware and infostillers seek to steal personal information, spyware steals the victim’s freedom, both physically and online. As a rule, such programs are secretly installed on smartphones by jealous spouses, former partners, interested parents, sometimes even friends –– the pursuing program monitors the victim’s physical location; sites that the victim visited on the Internet; her messages and phone calls, undermining personal human rights to freedom, including online. We highlighted that, throughout the world, the number of cases of domestic violence in families increased during the quarantine period. We see a similar situation in the digital world. ”
It is noteworthy that among the entire spectrum of stalker software, Avast also found a number of applications with the theme COVID-19, which were designed to spy on users. They collected more information than was required for their actual functioning.
The increase in spyware since March 2020, of course, is not limited only to Russia. Thus, the company has protected more than 43,000 users worldwide from such malicious programs. For example, in the United States, similar programs targeted 3531 users, 1648 in France and 3048 in Brazil.
“If your relationship has already worsened, or you are afraid that they are developing in this direction, you need to understand that you are very likely to install spyware applications on your smartphone. In this case, even harmless communication and meetings with friends can cause physical violence. In this case, if you try to remove the spyware application, your partner will be notified about this. If your relationship is already at this stage, we highly recommend that you seek help from an organization of the type Safe escape. In Russia, for example, these are the crisis centers “Anna”, “Kitezh”, “Willow” and many others, ”write Avast experts.
Also this week it became known that stalkerware is alarming not only among information security professionals. Google said that Google Ads Policy Update will result in spyware ads that can be used to track other people without their consent, be banned after August 11 this year.
Thus, advertisers will no longer be able to promote the following products through Google Ads:
- spyware and technology to track partners, including but not limited to stalkerware / malware, which can be used to track text messages, phone calls, and browser history;
- GPS trackers designed to spy and spy on anyone without their explicit consent;
- advertising equipment for surveillance (cameras, sound recorders, video recorders, video nannies) intended for espionage.
The ban doesn’t affect products intended for parents who need to track or control their minor children.