Researchers from Avast, the popular security and privacy products, found that there has been a 51% increase in the use of spyware and stalkerware since March 2020.
The 'COVID-19' coronavirus pandemic has started a trend where people use "unethical software" to track someone's location, access their personal photos and videos, intercept emails, texts and app communications such as WhatsApp and Facebook, as well as eavesdrop on phone calls and make covert recordings of conversations over the internet.
All that without the target's knowledge or consent.
On its blog post, Avast said that:
According to the researchers, the growing digital threat is part of the increased domestic violence during lockdown.
In the U.S., researchers have published an academic study examining the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on police calls for service for domestic violence.
According to the report, the pandemic has led to a 10.2% increase in domestic violence calls.
Abusers have another advantage in spying, as smartphones are already a common device in almost every homes. By installing spyware and stalkerware, abusers can control their victims in a way that was previously impossible.
"Stalkerware, which is designed to operate in stealth mode with no persistent notification to the user of the device, gives abusers and stalkers a robust and invasive tool to perpetrate harassment, monitoring, stalking, and abuse," explained Erica Olsen, Safety Net project director for the National Network to end Domestic Violence (NNEDV).
As a result of this, those who have been unable to leave their home due to coronavirus lockdown can be traumatized as they experience an increasing abuse from their abusers.
Stalkerware is a software developed and designed to spy on someone.
In its original intention, the software is meant to monitor on spouses, intimate partners or children. But with its intrusive abilities, the software has also been used to stalk on others, including journalists, high-profile figures and so forth.
This makes the software reside in the gray area between legitimate monitoring programs and a real spyware, which takes the ability to the next level, by stealing personal data.
the main difference between stalkerware and spyware is that, the former is mostly used by individuals to spy on people that are close to them. And as for the latter, it's most often deployed to hunt as many personal information as possible, no matter who's the victim.
If abusers can use the two "unethical" software on their victims, they can literally steal both the physical and online freedom of their victims.
In 2019 alone, cases involving stalkerware apps had increased by 373%.
To secure phones from stalkerware and spyware, users should:
- Secure their smartphone against all unauthorized physical access.
- Install a good, mainstream antivirus product on their mobile phone.
- Look for hotlines and victims' services providers.