Coalition Against Stalkerware
Organizations working against domestic violence join forces with IT Security companies
New global working group will combine expertise for victim support and cybersecurity to help affected users
Today, ten organizations – Avira, Electronic Frontier Foundation, European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence, G DATA Cyber Defense, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, National Network to End Domestic Violence, NortonLifeLock, Operation Safe Escape and WEISSER RING – have launched a global initiative called the Coalition Against Stalkerware.
What is stalkerware?
Stalkerware programs carry the possibility for intrusion into a person’s private life and are being used as a tool for abuse in cases of domestic violence and stalking. By installing these apps, abusers can get access to their victim’s messages, photos, social media, geolocation, audio or camera recordings (in some cases, this can be done in real-time). Such programs run hidden in the background, without a victim’s knowledge or consent.
For some years, the problem of ‘stalkerware’ has been on the rise. Non-profit organizations are experiencing a growing number of victims seeking help with the problem. According to Kaspersky, the number of users facing stalkerware 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 variants of stalkerware in the wild in 2019 – 31% more than a year ago.
Until now, there was neither an agreed-upon standard definition for stalkerware nor detection criteria which made it particularly difficult for the IT security industry to communicate around the issue. With this in mind, the founding members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware have taken the important step of creating a proper definition and reaching a consensus on detection criteria.
The Coalition has also launched an online portal, www.stopstalkerware.org, with the goal of helping victims, facilitating knowledge transfer among members, developing best practices for ethical software development and educating the public about the dangers of stalkerware.
A key objective of the website is to provide a helpful online resource for victims of stalkerware. Users will find information on what stalkerware is, what it can do, and, most importantly, how to protect themselves. The website lists common indicators to check if a user thinks they may have become a victim of stalkerware, and what steps they should and should not take. For example, it is important to consider whether removing stalkerware could potentially cause more harm, as the abuser will be informed immediately by the app, or it could erase evidence critical to a law enforcement investigation.
For potentially affected users, the Coalition Against Stalkerware recommends immediately contacting a local victim service organization or a law enforcement agency to help provide victim safety measures.
“Monitoring software has evolved rapidly in past years, powerful surveillance functions have been added and the purpose of the tracking activity has fundamentally changed. The continuous surge in mobile device usage combined with a lack of legislative mitigation is giving people accessible tools to spy on spouses, family members or friends. Avira recognizes that this is a new threat category and invites IT security companies and organizations working against domestic violence to join forces, share information and work together to stop these privacy violations.” - Alexander Vukcevic, Director Protection Labs at Avira
"Stalkerware, used for spying on phones and computers in domestic abuse or harassment situations, is a very serious problem, and it often goes hand-in-hand with other forms of abuse, up to and including physical violence. The ubiquity of stalkerware is a complex problem and we need stakeholders from all parts of society in order to fight it effectively." - Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
“Studies have shown that 70% of women victims of cyberstalking also experienced at least one form of physical or/and sexualised violence from an intimate partner. We need to stop perpetrators from using their partners’ phones for stalking and hold them accountable for their violence. The Coalition Against Stalkerware enables us to bring our knowledge on gender-based violence and perpetrators to IT security companies – so we can work together towards ending violence against women and girls perpetrated via new technologies.” - Anna McKenzie, Communications Manager at the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence (WWP EN)
“Placing spyware on a partner’s phone constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights. We are determined to fight this behaviour and protect survivors of abusive behaviour, mostly women. G DATA Cyber Defense is committed to better educate users about potential risks as well as work with victims organisations to also tackle non-technical issues associated with stalkerware,” says Tim Berghoff, Security Evangelist at G DATA Cyber Defense.
“In order to counter this issue, it is important for cybersecurity vendors and advocacy organizations to work together. The IT security industry gives its input by improving detection of stalkerware and better notifying users of this threat to their privacy. Meanwhile service and advocacy organizations directly work with victims of domestic violence, know their pain points and requests, and can guide our work. So acting together, shoulder to shoulder, we will be capable of assisting survivors through technical expertise and capacity building,” - Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky, Head of Anti-Malware Research at Kaspersky.
“For years, Malwarebytes has detected and warned users about the potentially dangerous capabilities of stalkerware, an invasive threat that can rob individuals of their expectation of, and right to privacy. Just like the abuse it can enable, stalkerware also proliferates away from public view, leaving its victims and survivors in isolation, unheard and unhelped. Forming and fighting together with the Coalition against Stalkerware is the next, necessary step in stopping this digital threat—a collaborative approach steered by the promise of enabling the safe use of technology for everyone, everywhere.” – David Ruiz, Online Privacy Writer, Malwarebytes Labs
“When designed to operate in complete stealth mode, with no persistent notification to the device owner, stalkerware can give abusers, stalkers, and other perpetrators a robust tool to perpetrate harassment, monitoring, stalking, fraud, and abuse. This type of abuse can be terrifying, traumatizing, and raises significant safety and privacy concerns. The creation of this Coalition is an exciting step forward to address this problem.” - Erica Olsen, Director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence
“At NortonLifeLock, our research experts have been working hard to take stalkerware out of the hands of abusers for more than 12 years, giving victims and potential victims tools to help protect themselves and be free of harassment, violence and attacks. We are proud to be a founding member of the Coalition Against Stalkerware to share our expertise and join forces in the fight to help stop abuse.” – Kevin Roundy, Research Director, NortonLifeLock
"The insidious existence of stalkerware only serves to violate, harm, and instill a constant sense of fear and anxiety in many of our clients. It is an active and existential threat to the security and privacy of all people. As our lives become more ingrained and dependent on technology, the threat stalkerware already poses grows by an order of magnitude. It is more important than ever to get ahead of this threat to take the power away from potential abusers, stalkers, and other malicious entities. Operation Safe Escape could not be more proud to be part of this group effort to restore privacy and a sense of safety to our clients and people everywhere." - Wilson "Chilly" Hightower, Head of Intake at Operation Safe Escape
“As a non-profit organization we know that technology facilitates abusers access to their victims’ private data. Rarely victims seek help because they feel ashamed. For WEISSER RING stalking is increasingly an important issue we encounter in our victim help. In 2018 we have assisted 1019 cases of stalking which was about three percent more than the year before. According to German police crime statistics, in 2018 there had been in total almost 19,000 cases of stalking, 500 more than the year before – a clear increase as well. Therefore we have developed the NO STALK app together with the WEISSER RING Foundation to provide victims with an effective tool in order to document stalking in an evidence-proof manner.” - Horst Hinger, Deputy Managing Director, WEISSER RING
The Coalition has been envisioned as a non-commercial initiative to bring stakeholders from non-profit organizations, industry and other areas such as law enforcement under the same umbrella. Due to the high societal relevance for users all over the globe, with new variants of stalkerware being developed on a regular basis, the Coalition Against Stalkerware is open to new partners and calls for cooperation.
To find out more about the Coalition Against Stalkerware please visit the official website www.stopstalkerware.org
To find out more about the State of Stalkerware in 2019 please check the Report made available by Kaspersky and supported by the Coalition Against Stalkerware.