Global cybersecurity company Kaspersky has upgraded its internet security for Android with privacy alert, a new feature that warns smartphone users if their private information is being monitored via commercially available spyware. While this kind of software is deemed to be legal, the programme's presence is often both unwanted and unknown by the user affected. In some cases, a programme's download page specifically states the software is intended to be used for secretly spying on the user.
Kaspersky Lab has thus decided to introduce a special alert for such programmes, enabling those affected to decide for themselves what they want to do about it. Commercial spyware programmes are background-running apps installed on phones which can be used to monitor and track device activity.
Usually used to spy on partners or ex-partners, there is nothing to stop people using such programmes to target specific individuals for malicious purposes. This is often done without the victim's knowledge, leading to these types of programmes being commonly referred to as stalkerware.
While functionality varies, it often allows the person who installed it to access their victim's device information, SMS messages, photographs, social media conversations, geolocation data and, in certain cases, to transfer audio and camera recordings in real time. Though installing stalkerware on someone else's device requires physical access, it can be done quickly by downloading an app onto the phone from a distributor's website.
In 2018, Kaspersky Lab products detected stalkerware programmes on 58,487 unique mobile devices - proving the severity of the threat. While it seems hard to even imagine that such a blatant privacy invasion can be so common and easily accessible, stalkerware programmes have been exposed and publicly criticised multiple times. Yet, in most countries, their status remains vague.
"We believe users have a right to know if such a programme is installed on their device," said Kaspersky's Security Researcher Alexey Firsh. "Our new alert will help them to do that and assess the risk properly."
(With inputs from agencies.)