Worldwide lockdowns reconfirm the need for strengthened international working group to domestic violence and stalkerware.
The fight to protect consumers against stalkerware continues as eleven new organisations – AEquitas with its Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), Anonyome Labs, AppEsteem Corporation, bff Bundesverband Frauenberatungsstellen und Frauennotrufe, Centre Hubertine Auclert, Copperhead, Corrata, Commonwealth Peoples’ Association of Uganda, Cyber Peace Foundation, F-Secure, and Illinois Stalking Advocacy Center – join the Coalition Against Stalkerware. Since its launch in November 2019, the Coalition Against Stalkerware now has 21 partners, including founding partners – Avira, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence, G DATA Cyber Defense, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, The National Network to End Domestic Violence, NortonLifeLock, Operation Safe Escape, and WEISSER RING. The Coalition seeks to combine its partners’ expertise in domestic violence survivor support, digital rights advocacy, and cybersecurity to address the criminal behaviour perpetrated by stalkerware and to raise general awareness about this important issue.
Domestic violence increases due to lockdowns
Growing the number of organisations united to fight stalkerware has never been more important than during these exceptionally difficult times. With lockdowns globally in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence incidents are increasing according to the US-based National Network to End Domestic Violence. Other Coalition partners from different territories report similar increases, and the United Nations (UN) recognises this as well. In early April, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, explained that worldwide, the negative consequences caused by lockdowns are borne more by women as their risk of suffering from domestic violence is more likely to increase. As well as physical abuse, many of these women need to be afraid of finding stalkerware on their phones. This is one of the most concerning problems resulting from domestic violence in general, not only during the ongoing pandemic, according to a bff survey conducted among women’s counselling and rape crisis centres in Germany.4
With the goal of helping victims and educating the public about the dangers of stalkerware, the founding members of the Coalition created a standard definition and detection criteria for stalkerware, which did not previously exist. During the first few months of their efforts, the Coalition partners have focused on raising greater awareness of stalkerware advocacy organisations, journalists, and regulators through public speeches, events, publications, research, and collecting the cybersecurity vendors’ data on stalkerware.
“The threat of stalkerware is constantly on our radar. In April 2020 alone, we detected that 8,201 users worldwide had stalkerware installed on their mobile devices. While in April 2019, this number was 7,736. We see that statistics are changing from month to month and year to year. To further improve the detection of such software in the cybersecurity industry, we are glad to see more organisations joining the Coalition Against Stalkerware and therefore sharing our knowledge with and inside this group dedicated to protecting users against stalkerware. Beyond detection, further research on the link between cyberviolence, physical violence and the gendered nature of stalkerware use is crucial in order to develop a clearer picture and better understanding of this issue. For that we are proud to be working together with our fellow Coalition members,” said Tatyana Shishkova, Senior Malware Analyst, Kaspersky.
“We believe that any software that tracks people’s actions without their awareness or their consent is evil. But because the people who buy stalkerware do so knowingly, we know that the only way to eradicate stalkerware is through a coordinated and holistic effort that attacks not just the stalkerware vendors, but also punishes those who enable its distribution. We are happy to contribute to and work with the Coalition Against Stalkerware,” added Dennis Batchelder, President of AppEsteem Corporation, which has just joined the Coalition.
To continue raising awareness about the issue of stalkerware, the Coalition Against Stalkerware has also produced an explanatory video available in six languages (English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish) that has been launched today. The aim is to provide helpful information for victims and survivors to better understand and detect the warning signs of stalkerware. The video 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.
The Coalition’s helpful online resource for stalkerware victims has also been made available in six different languages. Users can now find information about what stalkerware is, what it can do, how to detect it, and how to protect themselves in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. For potentially affected users, the Coalition members recommend contacting local victim service organisations immediately.
Finally, another member of the Coalition – National Network to End Domestic Violence – has released a Documentation and Evidence Collection App. DocuSAFE is a free app available in English that helps survivors collect, store, and share evidence of abuse, such as harassing messages, online impersonation, or other images or videos documenting domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, and dating violence. WEISSER RING also launched such an app last year, called “NO STALK” which is available in German. It is important to note that these apps should not be used on devices that one suspects may be monitored.
The Coalition members’ future goals include but are not limited to, improving detection and mitigation of stalkerware, developing best practices for ethical software development, and increasing technical capacity of survivors and advocacy organisations.
- WIRED article, “Tech Is a Double-Edged Lifeline for Domestic Violence Victims”, 28 April 2020.
- As examples: In France, the Centre Hubertine Auclert explains that there is a 50 % increase of calls to the main helpline for domestic violence victims (helpline 3919 of the Fédération Nationale Solidarité Femmes).
For India, the Cyber Peace Foundation refers to the National Commission for Women (NCW) reporting 587 complaints on their helpline number and online portal since the lockdown kicked into effect in March. Also, Cyber Peace Foundation states that 89% of the total number of cases registered to legal services authorities across the country were of domestic violence. In Europe, the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence (WWP-EN) said that their members reported significant increases in activity.
- UN News “UN backs global action to end violence against women and girls amid COVID-19 crisis”, 6 April 2020.
- bff report “Digitalization of gender specific violence” 2017.
- Website by the NNEDV, DocuSAFE: Documentation and Evidence Collection App.
- Website by WEISSER RING, NO STALK.
About Coalition Against Stalkerware
The Coalition Against Stalkerware (“CAS” or “Coalition”) is a group dedicated to addressing abuse, stalking, and harassment via the creation and use of stalkerware. Currently comprised of direct service and international victim service agencies, as well as information technology security firms, the Coalition looks to bring together a diverse array of organizations to actively address the criminal behavior perpetrated through stalkerware and raise public awareness about this important issue. Due to the high societal relevance for users all over the globe, with new variants of stalkerware emerging periodically, 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
Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity company founded in 1997. Kaspersky’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise is constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe. The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats. Over 400 million users are protected by Kaspersky technologies and we help 250,000 corporate clients protect what matters most to them. Learn more at www.kaspersky.co.za.