WhatsApp Pegasus Controversy: For regular users, the easy availability of spyware or other types of ‘scalarware’ means that the risk continues when it comes to securing privacy on their smartphones
The WhatsApp Pegasus spyware controversy has again raised the issue of user privacy on smartphones. The Pegasus scandal showed how the government and law enforcement agencies could use this sophisticated and expensive software to track and target targets. While there was not enough evidence to show Pegasus was used for large-scale surveillance given its high cost, the easy availability of other types of spyware such as ‘er stalkerware’ meant that privacy risks continued.
Like sypware, stalkerware also allows someone to spy on someone’s phone and access all their data. But in this case, the detective is a loved person or a member of the family, not the government. In addition, stackerware is well advertised, and often features er tracking ‘features.
It is available to the general public at large, provided they can pay for the license, which usually has a monthly cost associated.
You may have seen advertisements for apps on the Internet that claim users to track their girlfriend or boyfriend’s phone. A list of many such apps will appear in the search for boyfriend or girlfriend tracker app. Many apps in the Stalkware category are on the market as apps for parents to keep track of children’s activities.
But the reality is that licenses for many of these apps can be purchased by any particular user, not just one parent. So anyone can use these to spy on someone, provided they can access the device and install the necessary software. One such stackerware app that was eventually forced to shut down its business was PhoneSharif in the US, marketed as a child-monitoring app that was compatible with most Android phones.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took action against developer Retina-X, which also had other apps such as Flexispy, Tenspi, which served the same purpose. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported on 6 November that the US FTC has now stopped retina-X from distributing its mobile apps.
Keep in mind, the reason why Retina-X got into trouble was not because it was spyware, but because of multiple data breaches and the data it acquired was compromised several times. So yes, many of these Stalkerware apps are legal.
Monitoring apps like mSpy, Spyzie, SPYERA, Appmia, XNSPY are all readily available. Many of these claim to be compatible with iOS, so it is not limited to Android only. For example, mSpy can also be installed on non-jail-broken iOS devices by accessing an iCloud account.
In order for services to claim location monitoring, messages sent to applications such as WhatsApp, Telegram, calls, SMS, shared photos, etc., however the services make different claims on what they can monitor. Some people cannot monitor apps like Snapchat, which are popular among teens.
How does stalkware work?
Once installed on a person’s phone, the service works like any other spyware. All data, photos, even sent messages, keystrokes, apps, locations can be tracked. The data is usually shared with the person who has installed Stellarware on another user’s device. But remember that many of these apps and services are not really the best at handling such sensitive data. As the Retina-X case shows, the data they are accessing can easily be hacked by others.
Like all other malware, the victim is often unaware of the presence of stalkware on their phone. The software is collecting information and passing it on, while the user is none the wiser.
So how do you know if your phone has stellerware?
On Android, Kaspersky Lab upgraded its Kaspersky Internet Security for Android with a new privacy warning feature. It will warn users if their personal information is being monitored through commercially available spyware.
As Kaspersky said, such software is legal, but very often users will not know that the program is present on their phone. In some cases, parents can inform their children that they will monitor their devices, but when it comes to adults, such apps become a serious privacy violation.
Kaspersky noted in a blog post that “in some cases the download page of a program specifically states that the software is used to secretly spy on the user.” According to Kaspersky, these are often “used to spy on partners or former associates.” There is nothing to stop people using such programs to target specific individuals for malicious purposes. ”
In 2018, Kaspersky Lab products detected stellware programs on 58,487 unique mobile devices. Furthermore, their research showed that many programs do not have measures to protect this sensitive data. The cyber-security firm found that five of the 10 stalkware programs analyzed had either experienced data-breech, or were found vulnerable to such attacks.
How to keep stockware from your phone?
For one, stick to the official app from the Google Play Store on Android or the Apple App Store on iOS. Check the developer again before installing any new app.
Keep the passcode secret in your phone, and do not disclose it, as spyware or stalkware are often installed. When a trusted friend or husband gains access to the device, they can install the app as they can unlock the device.
According to Kaspersky, one must change all security settings on their mobile device when leaving a relationship.