“Stalkerware” applications are widespread. protect yourself.


While the number of these apps was in the hundreds a few years ago, they have since grown to thousands.

Known as stalkerware, these apps capture your conversations, your location, and everything you type, all while disguised as a calculator app. (Glenn Harvey/The New York Times) – For editorial use only with technical fix for a New York Times story by Brian X. Chen in September. 29, 2021. All other uses prohibited. –

It looked like a calculator app. But it was actually spyware that recorded every keystroke – the kind of data that would give a stalker unrestricted access to my private life.

This is what I concluded after downloading the free app flash keylogger On an Android smartphone this week. The app described itself as a tool to monitor the online activities of family members by logging what they write. Once installed from the official Google Play Store, its icon can be changed to the icon for the calculator or calendar app. In my tests, the app documented all my writing, including web searches, text messages, and emails.

Flash Keylogger is part of a rapidly expanding family of applications known as “Stalkerware”. While the number of these apps was in the hundreds a few years ago, they have since grown to thousands. It is widely available on Google Play Store and to a lesser degree Apple App Store, often with harmless names like MobileToolAnd Agents And Cerberus. And they have become a tool for digital home abuse that Apple and Google started last year to acknowledge that apps are a problem.

From last September to May, the number of devices infected with Stalkerware jumped 63%, according to a study by security firm NortonLifeLock. This month , Federal Trade Commission She said she blocked one app maker, King supportfrom subtraction SpyFone, a piece of stalking software that enables access to the victim’s location, photos and messages. It was the first ban of its kind.

Eva Galperin, Director of Cyber ​​Security at Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization, for applications.

Stalkerware is a prickly problem because it lives in a gray area. There are legitimate uses for monitoring apps, such as parental control software that monitors children online to protect them from scammers. But this technology becomes a stalker when it is surreptitiously installed on a partner’s phone to spy on him or her without his or her consent.

The researchers said such apps are more prevalent on Android phones, because the more open nature of Google’s software system gives programs deeper access to device data and allows people to install whatever apps they want on their phones. However, new stalkers targeting iPhones have also appeared.

Google said it banned apps that violate its policies, including Flash Keylogger, after I contacted it about the app.

An Apple spokesperson referred me to a security guide they published last year in response to the threat from these apps. He added that the new Stalkerware does not represent a vulnerability in the iPhone that could be fixed with the technology if the attacker had access to the person’s device and passcode.

Fighting stalkerware is tough. You may not even suspect it exists. Even if you do, it can be difficult to detect since antivirus programs only recently started flagging such applications as malicious.

Here’s a guide to how Stalkerware works, what to look for and what to do about it.

Types of stalkerware

Monitoring software has been on computers for decades, but in recent times spyware makers have shifted their focus to mobile devices. As mobile devices gain access to more intimate data, including photos, real-time location, phone conversations, and messages, apps have become known as stalkerware.

Different stalkerware applications collect different types of information. Some record phone calls, some record keystrokes and some track location or upload a person’s photos to a remote server. But they all generally work the same way: an attacker with access to the victim’s device installs the app on the phone and disguises the program as a regular piece of software, like a calendar app.

From there, the app lurks in the background, after which, the abuser retrieves the data. Sometimes, the information is sent to the attacker’s email address or can be downloaded from a website. In other scenarios, abusers who know their partner’s passcode can simply unlock the device to unlock the Stalkerware and review the recorded data.

Self defense steps

So what do you do? The Coalition Against Stalkerware, founded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups, and several security companies have offered this advice:

– Find unusual behavior on your deviceLike a fast battery draining. This might be a boon that the stalker app was constantly running in the background.

– Scan your device. Some apps like MalwareAnd naturallyAnd Norton Live Look And Lookout can detect stalkerware. But to be precise, take a closer look at your apps to see if anything is unfamiliar or suspicious. If you find a piece of Stalkerware, pause before deleting it: it may be a useful guide if you decide to report the abuse to law enforcement.

– asking for help. In addition to reporting stalking behavior to law enforcement, you can seek advice from sources such as National Domestic Violence Hotline or the safety net project hosted by National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Check your accounts online Find out what apps and devices are associated with it. On Twitter, for example, you can click the “Security and Account Access” button within the Settings menu to see which devices and apps have access to your account. Log out of anything that appears shady.

– Change your passwords and passcode. It is always a good idea to change passwords for important online accounts and to avoid reusing passwords across sites. Try to create long and complex passwords for each account. Likewise, make sure your passcode is hard to guess.

– Enable two-factor authentication. For any online account they offer, use two-factor authentication, which basically requires two forms of verifying your identity before allowing you to log into the account. Let’s say you enter the username and password for your Facebook account. This is the first step. Facebook then asks you to enter a temporary code generated by an authentication app. This is the second step. With this protection, even if the abuser discovers your password using a piece of stalkerware, they still can’t sign in without that code.

On iPhones, check your settings. new stalker app, WebWatcher, It uses a computer to wirelessly download a backup of the victim’s iPhone data, according to Certo, a mobile security company. To defend yourself, open the Settings app and look at the general menu to see if “iTunes Wi-Fi Sync” is on. Disabling this will prevent WebWatcher from copying your data.

Apple said this is not considered an iPhone vulnerability because it requires the attacker to be on the same Wi-Fi network and have physical access to the victim’s unlocked iPhone.

Start refreshing. Buying a new phone or wiping all the data from your phone to start over is the most effective way to rid a device of stalkers.

Update your software. Apple and Google regularly release software updates that include security fixes, which can remove stalkerware. Make sure you are running the latest software.

In the end, there is no real way to get around stalkerware. Kevin Roundy, principal investigator at NortonLifeLock, said he has reported more than 800 pieces of Stalkerware within the Android App Store. Google removed the apps and updated its policy in October to prevent developers from introducing stalkerware.

But more appeared to replace them.

“There are certainly a lot of very dangerous and worrisome possibilities,” Round said. “It will remain a concern.”

This article originally appeared in . format New York times.

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