Use of Stalkerware and Spyware Apps Increase by 93% since Lockdown Began in the UK
Avast draws attention to the growing threat of stalkerware apps, during National Stalking Awareness Week
LONDON, April 22, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Avast (LSE: AVST), a global leader in digital security and privacy products, reveals there has been a 93% increase in the use of spyware and stalkerware apps1 in the UK since lockdown measures were first introduced. In the past year, Avast has protected over 4,585 users in the UK from apps capable of spying, and 165,049 users across the globe. The volume of stalkerware and spyware apps in January and February of this year is a 93% increase on the same time last year before COVID restrictions were introduced.
This National Stalking Awareness Week, Avast continues to draw attention to the rise of stalkerware - unethical software that allows people to track someone's location, without the victim's knowledge or consent. Stalkerware gives the perpetrator access to a victim's personal photos, videos, emails, texts and app communications such as WhatsApp and Facebook, as well as eavesdrop on phone calls and make covert recordings of conversations over the internet.
Jaya Baloo, Chief Information Security Officer, Avast, said, "The growth in stalkerware and spyware poses a huge concern. Stalkerware is a form of tech abuse, an increasing threat which takes away the physical and online freedom of the victim. Usually installed secretly on mobile phones by so-called friends, jealous spouses and ex-partners, stalkerware tracks the physical location of the victim, monitors sites visited, phone calls and text messages, undermining a person's online freedom and individual liberty."
Alarmingly, the growth in stalkerware seems to echo the increase in domestic abuse cases across the UK since lockdown measures came into force. Refuge, a national charity in England providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse reported that calls to its helpline increased by two-thirds (66%) in the first three months of lockdown, with visits to its website increasing by 950%. Latest figures from the NHS,2 also reveal there has been a 350% increase in the number of people searching online for domestic abuse support during lockdown compared to the previous year.
Jane Keeper, Director of Operations, Refuge, added: "This technology gives abusers another way to exert control over their victims whether we are in lockdown or not. Unfortunately, whilst Avast's figures are concerning, we fear they are just the tip of the iceberg - many cases will go undetected. This is why Refuge is partnering with Avast, to help tackle this disturbing trend head on."
Avast is committed to identifying and removing the threat of stalkerware. In 2019, Avast mobile threat researchers identified and worked to remove 8 stalkerware apps from the Google Play Store. Refuge and Avast are both members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, a cross-industry organisation committed to fighting domestic abuse, stalking, and harassment by addressing the use of stalkerware and raising public awareness about this issue.
Jaya Baloo, CISO, Avast adds: "We're proud to be workin with members of the Coalition, to raise awareness of tech abuse, educate people on how to address it, and constantly to improve ways to prevent this threat."
Here are some simple steps to help people identify the signs of potential stalkerware and spyware on their devices and what they can do to protect themselves:
How to prevent stalkerware if you think you are at risk:
How to spot the signs:
How to manually remove stalkerware from your phone:
If you think you may be at risk from domestic abuse, information and help is available at: https://www.refuge.org.uk/
Please signpost to Refuge's National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.
Keep in touch with Avast:
1 Both types of apps are unethical forms of tracking software. Spyware is a form of malware that tries to keep itself hidden under the disguise of another app or program downloaded by the user and sends information to a malicious agent. Stalkerware is usually secretly downloaded onto a victim's device by someone they know.