What if someone was spying your every move online -- looking at your photographs, reading anything you were typing or even switching on your camera, all without your consent? Not only is it possible but 4,627 mobile users in India fell prey to it through a software available to anyone on the internet, a report released by a cybersecurity firm revealed.
India ranked fourth in the top-ten list of most affected countries by stalkerware, globally, The State of Stalkerware in 2020 released by anti-virus major Kaspersky revealed.
Stalkerware can be downloaded in the device of a person, who is often someone closely related to the abuser, without their knowledge and is used to stalk the victim.
To install it, physical access to the device for just a few minutes is necessary, the report revealed.
The privacy invading tool can be used for "intimate partner surveillance, harrassment and abuse," a group formed to end the use of such software, the Coalition Against Stalkerware, warned.
"The effects of cyber violence on women and girls are devastating, all-consuming and never ending, because they are part of a continuum of violence (offline and online) that deprives them of their freedom," Alessandra Pauncz, WWP EN Executive Director said in statement released by Kaspersky.
The rise of stalkerware in India comes after the Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy informed in February that "over 93,000 cybercrimes related to fraud, sexual exploitation and spreading of hate have been registered in the country between 2017 and 2019."
Why it's bad
Stalkerware has a stealth mode that enables the app to stay hidden in the user's device without needing any consent from the affected user.
"Using stalkerware, the extent of control held by the abuser can be immense. Depending on the type installed, stalkerware may have a variety of functions to intrude into the victim’s privacy," the report mentioned.
“We see the number of users affected by stalkerware has remained high and we detect new samples every day. It’s important to remember that there is somebody’s real-life story behind all these numbers, and sometimes there is a silent call for help," Victor Chebyshev, Research Development Team Lead, Kaspersky, said in a statement.
Globally, 53,870 mobile phone users were reported to have been affected by stalkerware in the year of the pandemic, 2020. Russia, Brazil, and USA emerged the most affected countries in the same year.
These apps are sold under disguises like - child monitoring or employee tracking solutions.
Because iOS is a traditionally closed system, stalkerware tools are less frequent on iPhones than on Android devices. But that doesn't make them foolproof, stalkerware could be installed in jailbroken phones or if the phone was given as a gift, in which case it could have already been installed.
Here's how you can prevent such attacks:
- Never give your phone to anyone when you're not around
- Use complex passwords and refrain from sharing them with anyone including your partners, family members or close friends