In light of October being, in various countries across the globe, the month to raise awareness of cybersecurity and domestic violence, Kaspersky has joined with other Coalition Against Stalkerware experts to provide police officers with knowledge to investigate digital stalking.
Recently, three members of the Coalition – Kaspersky, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) based in the USA, and Australia’s national umbrella organisation for domestic violence services Wesnet – organised, together with INTERPOL, a supporter of the Coalition, two online training sessions addressing issues of digital stalking and domestic violence. The goal of the online training, which involved more than 210 participants, was to help enhance capacity building within law enforcement agencies, support victims requesting assistance, and hold perpetrators to account.
Stalkerware enables a perpetrator to secretly spy on another person’s private life via a mobile device. The software is commercially available and provides access to an array of personal data, such as device location, browser history, text messages, social media chats, photos and more. However, stalkerware is not only an issue of privacy invasion, but also another form of digital and domestic violence.
“Stalking is a known risk associated with the increased likelihood of lethal and near-lethal harm. Our research with Australian frontline family violence workers found that tracking and monitoring of women by perpetrators had risen 244 percent between 2015 and 2020, and stalking is often via technological means. It is one of the most common forms of abuse co-occurring with domestic and family violence,” adds Karen Bentley, Chief Executive Officer, Wesnet.
According to Kaspersky’s State of Stalkerware 2020 report, 53,870 mobile users worldwide were affected by stalkerware in 2020. Keeping in mind the big picture, these numbers only include Kaspersky users, and the total global numbers will be higher. The Coalition Against Stalkerware – co-founded by Kaspersky in 2019 and comprising today of more than 40 active organisations tackling the issue of stalkerware – estimates that usage of stalkerware likely exceeds one million instances per year.
“Digital stalking is an issue known to the global law enforcement community, but there is a need to enhance capabilities around how to conduct investigations on stalkerware. The software hides itself and investigations need to be undertaken carefully for the safety of the victims. The online sessions organised together with Kaspersky, NNEDV and Wesnet offered helpful advice for our member countries. INTERPOL is committed to work continually with the Coalition Against Stalkerware, to promote the training to the global law enforcement community and to increase awareness of this problem,” explains Pei Ling Lee, Acting Assistant Director of Cyber Strategy and Capabilities Development, INTERPOL.
In each of the online training sessions, Kaspersky experts shared know-how from a technical perspective around what stalkerware is and its installation methods. Law enforcement officers also learnt about different methods to detect stalkerware safely for a victim. An important element included an introduction of how to work with TinyCheck, a free anti-stalkerware tool that allows the user to scan any device for stalkerware without making the perpetrator aware.
“We are glad to be working together with law enforcement agencies to share our expertise on the stalkerware threat. However, knowledge of the threat alone doesn’t help tackle it. That’s why we also give officers several solutions, including TinyCheck – a helpful open source tool to safely detect stalkerware when being confronted with a suspected case. Ideally, TinyCheck will become a standard tool to help victim support and law enforcement agencies alike to easily confirm whether stalkerware is installed on a device,” comments Noushin Shabab, Senior Security Researcher, Kaspersky.
During the online training sessions, two NGOs working in the field of domestic violence shared tips on how law enforcement officers can better support victims who require assistance. The training concluded with participants asking questions and sharing any feedback on the sessions.
“The misuse of technology as a tactic of abuse is incredibly common. Keeping up with constantly evolving technology that is being weaponised can be a challenge for law enforcement, advocates, and survivors. It’s important for professionals working with survivors to understand the ways technology can be misused and how to support survivors. Survivors should be empowered to learn how to increase their privacy and safety with technology,” emphasises Erica Olsen, Director of Safety Net, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).
For users who suspect they may be affected or are being impacted by stalkerware, Kaspersky has the following recommendations:
- Do not rush to remove stalkerware if found on the device as the abuser may notice. It is very important to consider that the abuser may be a potential safety risk. In some cases, the person may escalate their abusive behaviours in response.
- Contact local authorities and service organisations supporting victims of domestic violence – for assistance and safety planning. A list of relevant organisations in several countries can be found on www.stopstalkerware.org.
- Watch the Coalition’s video on stalkerware and how to protect against it on the homepage available in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. There is also a dedicated page for victims and survivors on stalkerware detection, removal and prevention.
- Use proven cybersecurity protection, such as Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, to run a check on your device and discover if stalkerware has been installed on it.