EFF, Antivirus Companies, and Human Rights Groups Launch Coalition to Combat Stalkerware

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Kaspersky, Operation Safe Escape and seven other organizations today launched the Coalition Against Stalkerware to unite and mobilize security software companies and advocates for domestic abuse victims in actions to combat and shut down malicious stalkerware apps.

Stalkerware, a type of commercially available surveillance software, is installed on phones without device owners’ knowledge or consent to secretly spy on them. The apps track victims’ locations and allow abusers to read their text messages, monitor phone calls, see photos, videos, and web browsing, and much more. It’s being used all over the world to intimidate, harass, and harm victims, and is a favorite tool for stalkers and abusive spouses or ex-partners.

Groups supporting targets of domestic abuse are seeing a growing number of victims seeking help about stalkerware. According to Kaspersky, the number of its antivirus users finding stalkerware on their devices 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 various forms of stalkerware in the wild in 2019—31% more than a year ago.

The Coalition Against Stalkerware aims to provide help for victims and bring leaders in antivirus technology together to establish best practices for ethical software development. As a first step, the coalition’s founding members have created a proper definition of stalkerware—distinguishing it from surveillance software used for legitimate purposes—and reached consensus on criteria for detecting it.

Going forward, the coalition will work together to call attention to and warn people about the apps, educate consumers about how stalkerware works and how to spot and remove it on phones, provide online resources and help for stalkerware victims, and push antivirus makers to build stalkerware detection into their products.

The coalition launched an online portal today, stopstalkerware.org, with links to stalkerware survivor stories, a map identifying states with anti-stalkerware laws, and groups that provide support and services for victims of domestic violence.

Further, the group will work with law enforcement and lawmakers on the federal, state and local level to enforce existing statutes, or enact new ones, to protect people against stalkerware and hold stalkerware vendors and abusers accountable.

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“This malicious software is being marketed as a way to check if your partner is cheating on you, or monitor teens and children, but the truth is spyware is explicitly marketed to stalkers and bad actors,” said  EFF Cybersecurity Director Eva Galperin. “The apps have made it all too easy for domestic abusers and violent ex-partners to intimidate, threaten, and invade safe spaces of their targets, who are at risk of physical abuse.”

Founding coalition partners include Avira, EFF, European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence, G Data Cyber Defense, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, NNEDV, Norton Lifelock, Operation Safe Escape, and Weisser Ring.

Most stalkerware isn’t available through app stores; rather it’s available for download on dedicated websites for as little as $7 a month. But stalkerware can still find its way into app stores by posing as child- or employee-monitoring software. In July Google removed seven apps designed to surveil people from Play Store. Last month the Federal Trade Commission brought its first case ever against developers of a stalkerware app for compromising users’ privacy and security.

“Our cellphones contain intensely private information, and having full access to them is like having full access to our minds. We want to see these apps disabled, disrupt development of new ones, and have stalkerware operators and abusers prosecuted and even jailed for illegally accessing and collecting highly personal, private digital information,” said Galperin.

For more about the coalition:
www.stopstalkerware.org

For more about stalkerware:
https://boingboing.net/tag/stalkerware

Contact Eva Galperin


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