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Almost 10% of adults who have been in a romantic relationship have used an app to oversee an intimate partner’s activity on their mobile device, according to cybersecurity company Norton.
While that’s certainly an alarming rate, it strengthens the premise that these apps—called stalkerware—are becoming increasingly more common.
In this article we’ll cover what stalkerware is, how to know if stalkerware has been planted on your phone, and how to remove stalkerware.
What is stalkerware?
Stalkerware is a toxic class of software designed specifically for monitoring a smartphone’s activity while covertly running in the background. Stalkerware or spyware is often installed as an undercover app.
In other words, stalkerware is cyberstalking or monitoring software that is heavily criticized because it is widely used by domestic abusers and stalkers.
What is the meaning of Stalkerware?
The meaning of stalkerware is a sort of malware whose sole purpose is to monitor and track everything the phone owner does—whether that’s reading emails and text messages, inspecting the device’s web searches, tracking the phone’s location, or anything in between.
Is stalkerware malware?
Malware is a mashup of the words “malicious”, meaning intentionally harmful or spiteful, and “software.” Malware can generally be described as any software whose main intent is to cause disruption to a device, network, computer, or whatever it affects.
Whether stalkerware is considered malware is a somewhat contested issue, though many people and organizations, including Russian multinational cybersecurity company Kaspersky, do consider it a form of malware. Part of the reason it is contested, according to Kaspersky, is because stalkerware is legal in most countries, and it’s illegal for anti-virus and security solution providers to mark software that is legally distributed as malicious.
In fact, in November 2019 an international foundation was founded called “The Coalition Against Stalkerware” to address what it calls “the criminal behavior perpetrated by stalkerware”. It touts cybersecurity companies Norton, Kaspersky, Avast, and others as partners.
How can you tell if someone is spying on your phone?
Most stalkerware apps, as you could have probably guessed, are not usually marked with a big red label saying “STALKER APP.” Instead, they are usually covered up or camouflaged in some way.
Many stalkerware apps also use misleading app titles or icons, like covering themselves up as a calculator app, calendar, or even a battery management app.
Prior to Google’s release of Android version 11, apps could even be configured in a way that would purposefully hide their app icons from the phone’s home screen altogether, making it really tricky for a user to know if any unauthorized apps were installed on their mobile device.
The first thing you can do if you suspect that someone may be spying on your phone or listening in on your phone calls, is go through every single app you have installed. Make sure to open each app in order to make sure that it is the exact app and function that you expect it to be. Keep in mind that surveillance apps may have a fake name so as to not appear suspicious, which is why you should specifically open each app installed on your phone.
If you think that a partner or loved one may be spying on your phone and wish to speak to someone, you should contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
How do I remove spyware?
While finding out you have stalkerware installed on any of your devices is upsetting to say the least, on the bright side, there are a lot of different things you can do to ensure your gadgets are all stalkerware-free.
Here at Atera, we’ve partnered with Bitdefender, which has a really easy solution that can remove any stalkerware for you worry-free. Bitdefender offers a virus & spyware removal service that will locate and destroy any and all viruses, malware, and stalkerware for you.
If you’d rather be proactive yourself in terms of removing spyware, the first thing you should do is uninstall any app that you didn’t install, do not actively use yourself, or don’t recognize. Make sure to do this even if the app seems innocent or mundane, like a battery saver app.
If you’re using an Android device, make sure you have installed Android 11 or a more recent version, as the up-to-date versions purposefully don’t let any apps hide their icons from a phone’s home screen, so it’s easier to know and keep track of exactly what apps are installed on your phone at any time.
Another good thing to do to prevent the future installations of stalkerware on your device is to install a security app that monitors your devices, and will continuously scan for apps or software that is potentially unwanted or unauthorized, and flag them for you.