Stalkerware apps on the rise: How to protect yourself from them

Stalkerware apps on the rise: How to protect yourself from them
Photo Credit: Pixabay

With the growth of technology adoption driven by the pandemic, cybercriminals have also been busy. India was one of the top five countries that were most targeted by stalkerware, a type of spyware, in 2020, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky said in its new report.

A total of 4,627 mobile users in India, the fourth most impacted nation, were targeted by stalkerware out of the 53,870 users who were hit globally, the 'State of Stalkerware 2020' report said.

Russia with 12,389 users was the most impacted country, followed by Brazil (6,523) and US (4,745). Mexico with 1,570 cases was the fifth most impacted country.

Stalkerware are malware that spy on users, steal their data or remotely monitor them.

The recently cited Pegasus spyware is a good example of such a tool, though Pegasus is much more invasive than most regular stalkerware.

Popular stalkerware apps include The Flash Keylogger, SpyFone, among others.Here is how they get the access to the user's phone:

App permissions

Stalkerware and spyware tools thrive on the fact that most users do not check what permissions apps are being granted. When you download an app off the Internet, it is important to check what permissions it is asking for.

For instance, do you need the Camera to access the phone’s location unless a photo has to be geotagged? Or does the Food Delivery need ‘always on’ access to location if it only needs to know where you are when you place an order? Better yet, does a calculator tool need access to the microphone on your phone? Permissions that don’t quite fit the profile of an app are a sign that the app cannot be trusted.

Watch key data points about your phone

Stalkerware apps work in the background, without your knowledge. But still needs the phone to be powered. If you phone is losing battery too fast, or if it’s losing battery even when it’s turned off for a long period, that’s a sign that there’s a stalkerware on your device.

Stalkerware apps also heat up the phone, because they run the processor constantly. Watch for this.

Phones also provide you insight on the overall data traffic generated from them. If the amount of data used doesn’t seem to match the amount of data your phone has used, that’s a troubling sign. It’s worth noting though that many apps use data in the background too, so don’t be alarmed by just a few MBs here and there.

Follow best practices

Cybercrime after all is like any other crime. So there’s no set way to really avoid them.

Instead, you can follow a set of best practices.