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Stalkerware Explained (And What to Look Out For)

In the modern world of technology, it can feel like you’re being watched: things that you search show up in advertisements hours later, and social media algorithms quickly learn your interests and desires. But this kind of data sharing is used, more often than not, for advertising purposes. And while it’s certainly an invasion of privacy, the information that marketers use to serve targeted ads isn’t necessarily malicious. 

But what if someone were watching you, literally? “Stalkerware,” a form of monitoring software that is used for stalking, has been on the rise, increasing rapidly in 2020 specifically. Using stalkerware (a form of spyware), the predator is able to track the activity of a victim without them realizing. 

Marketed as a method for parents to keep tabs on their kids, this kind of software is designed to be inconspicuous, giving abusers and stalkers a tool for both monitoring and harassment. According to Malwarebytes, “stalkerware can see all the things you see on your device, hear all the things you hear, pinpoint your physical location, and even remotely control your camera and microphone. Calls can be intercepted, eavesdropped on, and recorded—all without the knowledge of the device owner.”

The victims of stalkerware are most often partners or spouses, or exes. For those involved in domestic violence or coercive control, this tool becomes a weapon to further that abusive cycle.

How to Protect Yourself from Stalkerware

So, if you ensure you’re protected online, are you immune to the threat of stalkerware? That question doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer, unfortunately. Since many of these programs are marketed as parental devices, they’re not always picked up and blocked by anti-malware software initially. However, if you think you might have been hacked, there are programs that you can run through your device to sniff out any monitoring programs. There are a few technical clues to watch out for, such as quickly-depleting battery life and unusually high data use. Although these symptoms of other malware too, at least they could give you the gut check needed in order to run a scan on your device. 

The first step is awareness, and advocates are speaking out this year particularly to illustrate that stalkerware is a real threat.

Keep Your Information Private

If you’re in a relationship, it can be easy to trust quickly. Partners commonly know the passcodes of their counterpart’s computers and cellphones. But in a world where so much important and sensitive information is stored on personal devices, it’s legitimate to keep some things a secret. Below are some ways to protect yourself: 

  • Don’t disclose your passcodes to anyone 
  • Be aware of what apps are on your phone, and what permissions they have 
  • Take note if photos appear, or disappear, suddenly on your device

In addition, be wary of whether your partner seems to know information that you haven’t told them yourself. For example, do they seem to know where you were without you telling them? Are they suddenly asking pressing and detailed questions about your whereabouts, or conversations you’ve had? 

Stalkerware is a scary, rising threat in our digital society. Armed with information, you are better equipped to protect yourself and clue into the tell-tale signs if this happens to you. 

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