Last year, nearly 30.000 mobile device users worldwide were targeted by stalkerware – secret surveillance software used by abusers to track their victims – according to Kaspersky's latest State of Stalkerware 2022 report.
The State of Stalkerware is an annual report by Kaspersky which aims to better understand the number of people globally affected by this form of digital surveillance. In 2022, Kaspersky data reveals that 29.312 people worldwide were affected by stalkerware, a number that is fully in line with the 32.694 users affected in 2021. After a steady downward trend in the years leading up to 2021, this relative stability highlights the global scale of digital stalking suggesting that the problem will not solve itself.
According to Kaspersky Security Network in 2022, Russia, Brazil, India, Iran and the United States of America were the top five countries most affected by stalkerware. These countries were followed by Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and finally Mexico, completing the list of the ten most affected nations. In total, Kaspersky detected cases of stalkerware in 176 countries around the world, proving that digital surveillance continues to be a global phenomenon affecting all countries.
Table 1 – Oj top 10 countries worldwide most affected by species stalkerware the 2022
Digital violence and the need to act against it
Stalkerware is commercially available software that can be discreetly installed on smartphone devices, allowing perpetrators to monitor every step of a person's private life without the latter knowing. As the perpetrator requires physical access (and passwords) to a device, stalkerware is often used in abusive relationships. Although the data collected by Kaspersky is anonymous, other research has shown that women are mainly affected by this form of digital violence. It is important to remember that digital violence is still a dimension of violence and must be understood as a continuum of offline violence with real and negative consequences for victims.
Dr. Leonie Maria Tanczer, Associate Professor at University College London (UCL) and head of gender and technology research group of UCL, highlights the importance of Kaspersky's research:
"It is important to have data available about the stalkerware, because quantitative evidence about the scale and nature of forms of online coercion and control remains limited. Although the report only provides information for mobile device users using its security solutions Kaspersky, we can predict that the full extent of the use stalkerware it is much bigger. This evidence is therefore alarming, but useful, and can help motivate research and action to accelerate the development of both legal and technical mitigation strategies that increase not only detection but also the development of surveillance software. ".
Kaspersky is actively working to improve user protection. As part of this effort, Kaspersky has renewed its Privacy Alert service - a notification in case stalkerware is found on a device. The update means that the notification no longer only informs the user about the presence of stalkerware on the device, but also warns the user that if the stalkerware is removed the person who installed the software will be notified.
Since its launch in 2019, Kaspersky's Privacy Alert service has been included in all of the company's consumer security solutions for stalkerware protection.
"Thousands of people are victims stalkerware annually. Given the clear link to violence, this is a worrying trend, which is why we are working across the spectrum to tackle the problem. In addition to raising awareness, sharing our expertise and collaborating with third parties, the Kaspersky has now updated its privacy notice to users, should material be detected stalkerware on their devices so that they are informed that the perpetrator will be notified if the software is removed. The reason behind this is simple: If the software is deleted, the proof that the software was installed is also deleted stalkerware and if the perpetrator loses control of a device, the situation may escalate. Our aim is to ensure that victims understand the best course of action to achieve the safest possible outcome in order to reverse the trend against this form of digital violence.” says Christina Jankowski, Head of External Relations at Kaspersky.
Kaspersky works with experts and organizations in the field of domestic violence, from victim support services and perpetrator programs to investigative and government offices, to share knowledge and support both professionals and victims. Kaspersky is one of its co-founders Coalition Against Stalkerware, an international group dedicated exclusively to combating stalkerware and domestic violence. From 2021 to 2023, Kaspersky was a partner of the EU programme. DeStalk, which was co-financed by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship program of the European Union. In June 2022, Kaspersky launched a webpage to share more information about the Tinycheck, a free, safe and easy-to-use tool to check devices for any stalkerware and tracking apps.