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Security & privacy

Stalkerware software: Here’s what happens when someone snoops on your phone

As a parent, the security of your children is of utmost importance. If you have teenagers, you might have been tempted to install software on their mobile phones so that you can keep track of them. There are several legitimate apps available for both iOS and Android.

But there is a much darker side to these applications, as they are often used to spy on unsuspecting people illegally. When installed, criminals can track where people are, access their photos or monitor their calls.

Security researchers recently discovered a shocking amount of apps mimicking employee or parental control apps. But they are, in fact, spy software. Also known as stalkerware.

Here’s the backstory

For whatever reason, the installation and use of stalkerware has increased over the last few years. Whether it is a jealous spouse or controlling partner, 2019 had a five-fold increase in use. Last year, the appetite for stalkerware doubled in downloads.

It is often installed on a victim’s phone by a close connection, like a family member, co-worker or friend. Once active, the stalker has access to the GPS location of a victim’s device, conversations, images, browser history and call logs.

If the app developers had to be honest about their application, it would never be allowed on official app stores. For the most part, Google and Apple immediately remove them. But to get around it, the apps are labeled as tracking for children or employee monitoring.

It’s more than unethical

Installing software to track someone’s movements without their knowledge isn’t just a bad idea, but it puts them at real risk. The apps harbor all kinds of malicious code, and there is a chance that they can steal personal details and banking data.

During its research, ESET found more than 150 security flaws in 58 Android stalkerware apps. “This analysis identified many serious security and privacy issues that could result in an attacker taking control of a victim’s device,” the company explained in its research paper.

The biggest issues flagged by ESET included:

  • Insecure data transmission
  • Storing sensitive data on external media
  • Exposure to sensitive user information
  • Server leak of stalker information
  • Unauthorized data transmission from device to server

Do you have tracking apps installed?

Since the developers are extremely crafty in hiding their apps in plain sight, you might not immediately know that stalkerware is installed on your device. We have written about the dangers of stalkerware before, and luckily there are some ways you can check.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • A surge in data usage
  • Unexplainable charges or deductions
  • Unwanted or unrecognizable apps installed on your phone
  • Your phone seems sluggish or overheating as if it is working too hard while remaining idle

Keep reading

6 signs your phone has stalkerware (and what to do about it)

Watch your work email for malware that can hijack your system

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