What is Stalkerware & How to Protect Against Stalkerware Apps

  • By Greg Brown
  • Sep 29, 2022

What is stalkerware

Stalkerware is an insidious code used for stalking; once installed, it allows the predator to monitor, view, and record the victim’s actions 24/7. Since its inception, monitoring software has come under constant attack for disregarding the right to privacy. Stalkerware has been heavily criticized for its wide use by domestic abusers and stalkers. 

The California Legislature officially banned cyberstalking in 1998. Stalking is a diversion of character where the individual desires to exert forced control over their victims.

Stalkerware and Mobile

Stalkerware can be installed on smartphones, laptops, desktops, and servers as distributed code. However, it can be tricky to find Stalkerware on your device. The code does not appear in installed programs and will not have an icon on the home page. Android 11 lets the user configure the home screen so the app does not appear anywhere.

Spyware works efficiently on a mobile device. Stalking apps can be camouflaged in various ways using misleading icons or tiles. The malicious code may disguise itself as a calculator or battery management app. 

Stalkerware is toxic and insidious code that works undercover to monitor user activity while running in the background covertly. The code will read emails, texts, photos, call records, and browsing history, recording every keystroke you make. The most troublesome feature of Stalkerware, it will track your location at all times. 

Imagine having your child's movements constantly recorded by a cyber-criminal! Or a domestic abuser spying on their next victim. 

Investigating spyware and the associated tools, NPR spoke with counselors and survivors; they found cyberstalking is a standard part of the domestic abuse cycle in the US.

Protecting Against Stalkerware

IOS and Android are making a big push to completely shut down or scale back the use of Stalkerware. Apple’s latest beta will feature an option that warns against hidden physical surveillance of your location. How effective this first stab at the control of Stalkerware remains to be seen.

If you suspect there may be malicious code on your smartphone, the Coalition Against Stalkerware is an excellent resource. 

Questions the Coalition can Answer

How do I know if Stalkerware is on my phone?

The early signs will be random notifications, draining batteries, and other functions out of the ordinary. Always trust your instincts when dealing with hidden apps on your phone. Many find themselves running a deep dive scan every night until it is gone, and until they have a good idea of who put it there. Some of the better antivirus products will be able to handle Stalkerware. 

Can I Prevent Stalkerware from Being Installed on My Phone?

Keep your phone locked at all times with a 4-digit pin or password that only you know. Do Not Share It! Use a pin code, password, or biometric to stay safe.

Do You Suspect Stalkerware?

  1. Use a safer device, a phone the abuser does not know you possess. Use your local resources to create a safety plan. Every library has phones and internet. Borrow a friend’s laptop or smartphone for a couple of days. Find advocates to help, National Hotlines.
  2. Does the person stalking you know everything you’ve written, verbal texts, location, and phone messages? Knowing how you are being tracked narrows down the possibilities and helps define a specific safety strategy. If a stalker knows you had a conversation but not the content, they are likely accessing call logs or billing statements. If the cyber stalker knows the content, another device is being used that is linked to your primary account.
  3. If you are one of those parents who feel monitoring a teenager’s telephone is proper parenting etiquette, look at DDI Utilities. This monitoring software operates on all Android and IOS devices. Text or email the OTA link to its target device and wait for the code to be opened before monitoring begins. DDI begins work immediately by downloading all photos, conversations, locations, and more. The level of remote control logging is astonishing.
  4. Stalkerware usually requires physical access to the device, making the phone more vulnerable to attack. Cyberstalkers may gain control by linking to a victim’s cloud account or the device’s account with the phone company. With this level of access, the intruder can turn on and off various phone features such as location, billing records, and access logs.

Privacy and Security

Most smartphones have controls on how to set up and manage online privacy. With the proliferation of Stalkerware, every major website has established privacy settings to meet the needs of its patrons. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and Facebook have teamed up to help countless people in abusive relationships.

If an abusive person is forcing you to share a passcode, try borrowing a friend’s device and call an advocate immediately.

Several reputable anti-spyware applications can protect a user against spyware. Another tip; review each online account you have, choose a new password, and adjust privacy settings for the app. Make sure to turn off location sharing.

Smartphones have built-in GPS, pinpointing your exact location. Your phone allows for location sharing and passing that information to outside predators. Some applications have their privacy and security settings, letting you manage location within the app itself.

Your Phone Is Monitored, Now What?

Protect Against Stalkerware Apps

There is no single “right way” to forcefully respond to stalking ware installed on your phone. Talking with an advocate before making significant changes to your phone is always wise. Any changes may alert the stalker, and they may become more abusive. Making heavy changes may also erase valuable evidence.

  1. Replace your phone. This idea is by far the most drastic change to eradicating Stalkerware. It should be noted; never connect old accounts to the new phone, such as cloud accounts, Google, and more. Do not move old data to the new phone, restore from backup, or use an old sim card. 

If you decide to keep the old phone, strategize on how to store it and keep it monitored for evidence. Talk with an advocate on how to best handle turning on the device, as your location immediately becomes visible.

Performing a full factory reset may eliminate any Stalkerware, or it may not. Uninstall any unfamiliar apps and turn off location sharing. Reset the phone, networked passwords, and any connected or billing account passwords.

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