< BackTuesday, November 19, 2019

Avira joins in the launch of the Coalition Against Stalkerware

It’s time to combine cybersecurity with victim support to beat back this threat to user security and privacy

Tettnang, Germany, November 19, 2019 - Avira is proud to announce that it is a founding member of the global Coalition Against Stalkerware initiative, joining with several security firms and victim support groups to educate, expose, and stop the use of Stalkerware. 

What is Stalkerware?

Stalkerware is a type of monitoring and surveillance app which enables a person to get access to their victim’s messages, photos, social media activities, location, and audio or camera recordings. Much of the time, these apps are installed on a device without either the victim’s knowledge or consent and run hidden in the background. 

Stalkerware apps are more than a technical violation of user privacy, they are used in real-life cases of domestic violence, intimidation, and stalking. While spyware is usually limited to nation-states with big budgets, Stalkerware is as accessible as a download site and a smartphone. This easy accessibility -- combined with a lack of legislative and legal awareness – has opened a pandora’s box of risks to individuals’ personal and online security. 

Danger hiding in plain sight

Stalkerware has been able to hide in plain sight because many of these apps are dual purpose – they have both legitimate and illegal uses. There are a number of apps that include these monitoring, recording, and geofencing functions, enabling Stalkerware to be marketed in app markets and via download sites. In addition, the lack of an industry standard definition for Stalkerware or a common detection criteria have made it particularly difficult for the security industry to communicate with the public and each other about this issue. 

“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,” said Alexander Vukcevic, Director Protection Labs at Avira.


Greater security by joining together

With these risks in mind, the founding members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware have taken the important first step of creating a proper definition and reaching a consensus on detection criteria.

“The Coalition Against Stalkerware is a great example of how cooperation can make online life more secure for all. 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,” added Vukcevic. “At Avira, we are pleased to see how adding Stalkerware to the other malware detection categories provides more complete threat coverage for a global audience.” 

Avira and other members of the Coalition will be continuing to refine their definitions and detection criteria of Stalkerware. “It is going to be an ongoing task – similar to the fight against both malware and Potentially Unwanted Apps,” he explained. “While there are technical criteria that we have to work on, it is also critically important that people realize that they have the right to know what apps are present on their device, how these apps are tracking them, and be able to remove them.”

Get informed at StopStalkerware.org

Education is essential element of the fight against Stalkerware. In support of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), the Coalition will also launch 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. 

The website will provide online resources about Stalkerware: It will include information on what Stalkerware is, what it can do, and, how people can protect themselves. The website will list common indicators to check if a user thinks they may have become a victim of Stalkerware and what steps they can potentially make.