New global working group will combine expertise for victim support and cybersecurity to help affected users
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.
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.
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.
"Stalkerware, used for spying on phones and computers in domestic abuse or harassment situations, is a very serious problem, and it often goes hand-in-hand with other forms of abuse, up to and including physical violence. The ubiquity of stalkerware is a complex problem and we need stakeholders from all parts of society in order to fight it effectively." - Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
“Placing spyware on a partner’s phone constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights. We are determined to fight this behaviour and protect survivors of abusive behaviour, mostly women. G DATA Cyber Defense is committed to better educate users about potential risks as well as work with victims organisations to also tackle non-technical issues associated with stalkerware,” says Tim Berghoff, Security Evangelist at G DATA Cyber Defense.
“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.