Stalkerware, which enables someone to spy on another person's private life using smart devices, impacted more than 32,000 Kaspersky mobile users globally last year, according to the company.
Along with other technologies, stalkerware is often used in abusive relationships. Research has identified a direct link between online and offline violence, making it even more essential to comprehensively tackle this issue, Kaspersky states.
The State of Stalkerware in 2021 report analyses the use of stalkerware around the world, with the aim of better understanding the threat it poses.
It provides some analysis on the phenomenon of stalkerware, and more broadly on technological abuse, as well as tips for non-profit organisations and potential victims.
Kaspersky states that while the company witnessed a significant decrease in affected users compared with the data gathered by the team since 2018, and a 39% decrease from Kaspersky's 2020 numbers, it's important to highlight that these statistics represent only the tip of the iceberg.
According to a rough estimate from the Coalition Against Stalkerware, usage of stalkerware could be close to one million instances globally each year.
By comparing the results of this research with the results of a Digital Stalking survey conducted at the end of 2021, a clear link can be seen between online and offline violence.
In addition, 24% of people surveyed confirmed being stalked using technology, and 25% confirmed having experienced violence or abuse at the hands of their partner.
The team also found the same correlation in most of the countries the survey was run. Two non-profit organisations who also participated in the report and shared their experience from working with victims US-based NNEDV (the National Network to End Domestic Violence) and WWP EN (the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence) confirm that tech-enabled abuse is a growing issue.
Toby Shulruff from NNEDV's Safety Net project says, “ICT technologies are powerful tools for perpetrators exerting coercive control, especially in relationships where violence is already present offline, writes Berta Vall Castell and Anna McKenzie from WWP EN.
"Domestic violence has significantly increased during the pandemic, especially during lockdowns. In addition, there is a growing rate of smart devices including home assistants, connected appliances and security systems connected to WiFi networks and smartphones used in intimate partner violence. While stalkerware is a common concern, there are many other tools available for tech abuse."
Stalkerware continues to affect victims everywhere in the world. Kaspersky has identified affected users in over 185 countries and territories.
When it comes to fighting stalkerware, Kaspersky is one of the co-founders and drivers of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, an international group dedicated to tackling the threat and combating domestic violence.
Interpol is a supporter of the Coalition and in 2021, together with Kaspersky, delivered training to more than 200 law enforcement officers on the topic of stalkerware.
Additionally, Kaspersky is one of the partners of the DeStalk project. Funded by the European Commission, this research project aims to develop a strategy to train and support professionals in victim support services, perpetrator programmes, officers of institutions and local government amongst others.
Kaspersky has also developed TinyCheck, a free, open source tool which aims to facilitate the detection of stalkerware in a quick and non-invasive way on a victims device. It can run on any OS without making the perpetrator aware.
In 2021, multiple non-profit organisations in the field of domestic violence tested TinyCheck and provided feedback to help improve it. Police forces and judicial bodies in several countries have also taken an interest in the tool as a way to better support victims.