As if we aren’t already faced with enough malicious cyber activity, you can add stalkerware to the list of threats to watch out for.
Stalkerware is software installed on an unsuspecting person’s phone or computer that allows a perpetrator to track location, intercept texts and calls, and access photos, apps, microphone, and camera. It essentially tracks a victim’s every move. The software is largely undetectable and usually requires physical possession of a phone to install. Nonetheless, it’s very scary. Check out this video from BBC to see how it works.
The good news is, most stalkerware must be installed directly on a device (at least, that’s the case in 2019). However, it can be installed in minutes and usually remains hidden, and a victim’s attempts to search for stalkerware can be recorded. Remote installation via an email link, for example, is also possible, although less likely.
Spotting stalkerware can be difficult, because the signs are fairly nebulous—slower device performance, increased data usage, fast-draining battery. If you suspect your device has been compromised by stalkerware, ZDNet has an in-depth guide with recommended steps.
In our research, stalkerware is often installed by a family member, friend, employer, or someone with easy access to a victim’s device. In fact, NPR conducted a study and found that cyberstalking plays a big role in domestic abuse, which you can read more about here. Cyberstalking can happen to anyone by anyone, so it’s crucial to be aware and stay safe.
How to Guard Against Stalkerware and Related Cyberthreats
For PC users:
- Open your task manager to check for any unknown programs
- Go to Windows > Settings > Camera to view/change what apps have access to your information and camera/microphone
- We recommend Malwarebytes to identify and block malware on PCs
For Mac users:
- Open your activity monitor to check for any unknown programs
- Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy tab to view/change what apps have access to your information and camera/microphone
On your phone:
- Protect your phone with a pin code to prevent tampering
- Enable two-factor authentication so you know if an outside device is trying to log into you social or email accounts
- If you think your phone has been compromised, a complete factory reset will remove stalkerware and restore your phone to its original settings.