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Stalkerware has been out of control since the pandemic began

Kaspersky Report on Stalkerware
(Image credit: Kaspersky)

As cyber threats targeting employees working from home have increased during the pandemic, so too have the number of stalkerware and spyware apps installed on user's smartphones.

According to the cybersecurity firm Avast, there has been a 93 percent increase in the use of stalkerware and spyware apps in the UK since lockdown measures were first introduced. As part of this year's National Stalking Awareness Week, the firm along with the inter-governmental organization Interpol are trying to bring more attention to this growing threat.

Although stalkerware and spyware are both unethical forms of tracking software, spyware is a form of malware that tries to remain hidden on a user's device and sends information back to a malicious agent while stalkerware is usually secretly downloaded onto a victim's device by someone they know.

Chief information security officer at Avast, Jaya Baloo provided further insight on the growing threat of both stalkerware and spyware in a press release, saying:

"The growth in stalkerware and spyware poses a huge concern. Stalkerware is a form of tech abuse, an increasing threat which takes away the physical and online freedom of the victim. Usually installed secretly on mobile phones by so-called friends, jealous spouses and ex-partners, stalkerware tracks the physical location of the victim, monitors sites visited, phone calls and text messages, undermining a person's online freedom and individual liberty."

Preventing, identifying and removing stalkerware

If you believe you are at risk of having stalkerware installed on your devices by a so-called friend, jealous spouse or ex-partner, Avast recommends that you secure your smartphone against all unauthorized physical access by using two factor authentication (2FA) such as a pin code and a second form of identity confirmation like an email backup or thumbprint.

Additionally, you should install antivirus software on your mobile phone as a reliable mobile antivirus app will treat stalkerware as a potentially unwanted program (PUP) and give you the option to remove it.

If you believe that stalkerware is already installed on your device though, spotting the signs is an essential first step to removing it. Common signs of stalkerware include slow device performance that is sudden or unexpected, settings that have been changed without your consent, odd messages and unexplained calls on the bill from your mobile carrier. 

At the same time, if an abuser has physical access to your device or knows things about what you're doing, where you're going and who you've been communicating with, then they may have already installed stalkerware on your smartphone. Stalkerware can also be manually removed from your device by rebooting into safe-mode and removing any suspicious apps or ones that you don't remember downloading.

Stalkerware and spyware are a growing threat but by knowing how to spot the signs and keeping your device safe and secure at all times, you can prevent falling victim to unwanted tracking.

Anthony Spadafora

After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal and TechRadar. He has been a tech enthusiast for as long as he can remember and has spent countless hours researching and tinkering with PCs, mobile phones and game consoles.