SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Experts worry stalkerware is secretly tracking your smartphone

Dec 17, 2019, 12:52 PM
stalkerware...
Experts say an explosion of "stalkerware," which allows outsiders to access your phone, apps and data, is a growing concern. Photo: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition says they frequently hear from women who worry they’re being stalked by an ex-partner. And what’s become a growing concern is the widespread use of technology — “stalkerware” — to do the dirty work.

Because of apps and websites, stalkers can ditch old-school binoculars and the 24-hour tail, and secretly track someone’s every move through a smartphone.

The coalition advises people who suspect they are being stalked to immediately contact their confidential domestic violence prevention hotline at 1-800-897-LINK, where they can enlist the help of police officers to inspect phones for stalkerware.

Eva Galperin,  director of cybersecurity for Electronic Frontier Foundation, told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic Show the practice is becoming widespread.

“It is absolutely common,” she said. For example, she said the Android store features at least eight different stalkerware apps. “They had been downloaded 140,000 times.”

How stalkerware tracks you

In addition to apps, says Galperin, an online search makes it simple to access and secretly set up stalkerware.

You can simply google ‘how do I spy on my spouse’ and a bunch of websites show up. They say, ‘download, in the case of Android, this file, upload it onto the phone that you want to spy on. Then send us money and we will grant you access to a portal that will allow you to see what is happening on that phone.’

Once the stalkerware is on your phone, Galperin says, it can track every move you make, without your knowledge.

“Things like real-time location data, your pictures, your login, your two-factor authentication tokens, your emails, your text messages, including your end-to-end encrypted messages, your phone calls, everything,” she said. “Everything which is on your phone.”

Are you being tracked?

Former FBI Special Agent Aaron Sherman, who investigated cybercrimes, says if you notice an inexplicable surge in your data use, or a battery that won’t keep a charge, your phone may be infected with stalkerware.

Bottom line: it drains batteries and uses a lot of data.

Because it can lurk on your phone in what he calls “stealth mode,” he told Dave & Dujanovic, “rely on your gut feeling.”

If you feel someone is watching you, Sherman says you should ask for help from an expert right away.

“This is a massive problem, not only for people in general but for victims of domestic abuse,” he said.

He warns stalkers also track their ex-partners through shared passwords.

He says in some cases, stalkers can access iCloud accounts. Then when “your phone backs up information to your iCloud account, it copies that information to your iCloud account so you can see that as well.”

His advice: if you’re going through a break-up, change your passwords and set up multi-factor authentication on your accounts for extra security.

More resources

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org.

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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Experts worry stalkerware is secretly tracking your smartphone