Today, ten organizations – Avira, Electronic Frontier Foundation, European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence, G DATA Cyber Defense, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, National Network to End Domestic Violence, NortonLifeLock, Operation Safe Escape and WEISSER RING – have launched a global initiative called the Coalition Against Stalkerware.
What is stalkerware?
Stalkerware programs carry the possibility for intrusion into a person’s private life and are being used as a tool for abuse in cases of domestic violence and stalking. By installing these apps, abusers can get access to their victim’s messages, photos, social media, geolocation, audio or camera recordings (in some cases, this can be done in real-time). Such programs run hidden in the background, without a victim’s knowledge or consent.
For some years, the problem of ‘stalkerware’ has been on the rise. Non-profit organizations are experiencing a growing number of victims seeking help with the problem. According to Kaspersky, the number of users facing stalkerware rose by 35%, from 27,798 in 2018 to 37,532 in 2019. The threat landscape for stalkerware has also widened, as Kaspersky has detected 380 variants of stalkerware in the wild in 2019 – 31% more than a year ago.
The Coalition’s objectives
Until now, there was neither an agreed-upon standard definition for stalkerware nor detection criteria which made it particularly difficult for the IT security industry to communicate around the issue. With this in mind, the founding members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware have taken the important step of creating a proper definition and reaching a consensus on detection criteria.
In support of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), the Coalition will also launch an online portal, www.stopstalkerware.org, with the goal of helping victims, facilitating knowledge transfer among members, developing best practices for ethical software development and educating the public about the dangers of stalkerware.
A key objective of the website will be to provide a helpful online resource for victims of stalkerware. Users will find information on what stalkerware is, what it can do, and, most importantly, how to protect themselves. The website will list common indicators to check if a user thinks they may have become a victim of stalkerware, and what steps they should and should not take. For example, it is important to consider whether removing stalkerware could potentially cause more harm, as the abuser will be informed immediately by the app, or it could erase evidence critical to a law enforcement investigation.
For potentially affected users, the Coalition Against Stalkerware recommends immediately contacting a local victim service organization or a law enforcement agency to help provide victim safety measures.
“In order to counter this issue, it is important for cybersecurity vendors and advocacy organizations to work together. The IT security industry gives its input by improving detection of stalkerware and better notifying users of this threat to their privacy. Meanwhile service and advocacy organizations directly work with victims of domestic violence, know their pain points and requests, and can guide our work. So acting together, shoulder to shoulder, we will be capable of assisting survivors through technical expertise and capacity building,” said Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky, Head of Anti-Malware Research at Kaspersky.
“Studies have shown that 70% of women victims of cyberstalking also experienced at least one form of physical or/and sexualised violence from an intimate partner. We need to stop perpetrators from using their partners’ phones for stalking and hold them accountable for their violence. The Coalition Against Stalkerware enables us to bring our knowledge on gender-based violence and perpetrators to IT security companies – so we can work together towards ending violence against women and girls perpetrated via new technologies.” - Anna McKenzie, Communications Manager at the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence (WWP EN)
“When designed to operate in complete stealth mode, with no persistent notification to the device owner, stalkerware can give abusers, stalkers, and other perpetrators a robust tool to perpetrate harassment, monitoring, stalking, fraud, and abuse. This type of abuse can be terrifying, traumatizing, and raises significant safety and privacy concerns. The creation of this Coalition is an exciting step forward to address this problem.” - Erica Olsen, Director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence
“As a non-profit organization we know that technology facilitates abusers access to their victims’ private data. Rarely victims seek help because they feel ashamed. For WEISSER RING stalking is increasingly an important issue we encounter in our victim help. In 2018 we have assisted 1019 cases of stalking which was about three percent more than the year before. According to German police crime statistics, in 2018 there had been in total almost 19,000 cases of stalking, 500 more than the year before – a clear increase as well. Therefore we have developed the NO STALK app together with the WEISSER RING Foundation to provide victims with an effective tool in order to document stalking in an evidence-proof manner.” - Horst Hinger, Deputy Managing Director, WEISSER RING
The Coalition has been envisioned as a non-commercial initiative to bring stakeholders from non-profit organizations, industry and other areas such as law enforcement under the same umbrella. Due to the high societal relevance for users all over the globe, with new variants of stalkerware being developed on a regular basis, the Coalition Against Stalkerware is open to new partners and calls for cooperation.
To find out more about the State of Stalkerware in 2019 please check the Report made available by Kaspersky and supported by the Coalition Against Stalkerware.