Kaspersky, Coalition Against Stalkerware: One year on in fight for digital privacy

posted November 27, 2020 at 09:00 pm
by  Manila Standard
To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Kaspersky has introduced a special stalkerware and spyware detection tool—12 months on from the foundation of the Coalition Against Stalkerware.

Kaspersky, Coalition Against Stalkerware: One year on in fight for digital privacy
The Coalition Against Stalkerware was founded in November last year in response to this growing threat. With the purpose of fighting against technology facilitated abuse, the initiative aims to unite both organizations that work to combat domestic violence and the IT security community.
Stalkerware enables someone to secretly spy on another person’s private life via a smart device, and is often used to facilitate violence against an intimate partner. The Coalition Against Stalkerware was founded in November last year in response to this growing threat. With the purpose of fighting against technology facilitated abuse, the initiative aims to unite both organizations that work to combat domestic violence and the IT security community.

Within a year, the alliance has grown from ten founding partners into a large international working group. Certo Software, ECHAP, the German Institute for Technology and Journalism (ITUJ e.V.), Traced Ltd, and WESNET have recently joined the Coalition, which now has 26 partners.

Keeping technology safe for all 

The Coalition considers stalkerware to be a growing problem that is, unfortunately, here to stay. In 2019, Kaspersky detected a 67% year-on-year increase of stalkerware usage on its users’ mobile devices at a global level. The number of stalkerware installations worldwide during the first 10 months of 2020 (from January to October) totaled more than 48,500, which is close to the total (almost 52,000 installations) observed over the same period in 2019. Although there is a slight decrease in numbers compared to last year, there is little reason to celebrate as there is still no indication that stalkerware is disappearing.

Kaspersky experts see incidents every day around the globe. It is important to stress that despite the risk that modern technologies can bring, survivors should not be discriminated against and should not stop using their devices. “We have to make sure that survivors have access to safe internet, safe phones and devices so that they can stay connected, reach out for help and, most importantly, be empowered to make the best decisions for themselves,” emphasized Rachel Gibson, Senior Technology Safety Specialist at National Network to End Domestic Violence.

To help protect users against stalkerware, Félix Aimé, a security researcher in Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT), has developed “TinyCheck”—a simple tool to detect stalkerware and spyware installed on smartphones and tablets, without making the perpetrator aware that such a check is being carried out.

 “The idea came to me in a meeting while discussing the issue of stalkerware with a French women's rights non-profit organization. The group wanted to help people who suspect stalkerware is running on their devices, without having to install additional applications or conducting forensic analysis,” explains Félix Aimé.

This easy to use open-source tool relies on Raspberry Pi, a widely accessible platform. Using a regular Wi-Fi connection, TinyCheck scans a mobile device’s outgoing traffic and identifies interactions with known malicious sources, such as spyware-related servers. The aim of TinyCheck is to help non-profit organizations, like service providers, support survivors of domestic violence to protect these individuals and their privacy.

The first version of the open-source tool is available now at https://github.com/KasperskyLab/tinycheck.

Active against stalkerware

“This is the first anniversary of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, and it has been quite a year in which we have learnt a lot. We now understand that stalkerware is not purely a technical problem. It’s not the IT part of the issue that is challenging, but the fact that we need to deal with the commercial availability of stalkerware, the lack of regulation around how it is being used and, perhaps the most difficult problem, the fact that violence against women and different forms of online abuse have been normalized,” comments Kristina Shingareva, Head of External Relations at Kaspersky.

“We can provide technical training on different forms of tech-enabled abuse for the NPOs, but it’s not enough – it should be complemented with a chapter focusing on and reflecting survivors’ psychological experiences,” adds Shingareva.

In line with the commitment to raise public awareness and educate service organizations about stalkerware, members of the Coalition have focused on public events and exchanging knowledge with experts. The most recent activities in the past few months included Kaspersky’s experts giving an online workshop at the annual conference of the European Network for the Work with Perpetrators (WWP EN) at the beginning of September.

Last month, Kaspersky and other Coalition members were grateful for the opportunity to partner with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and United Nations (UN) Women, in hosting an online event on the issue of stalkerware. Similarly, on November 2, the UN’s Internet Governance Forum hosted a pre-event virtual session, in which a few members of the Coalition Against Stalkerware discussed the issue of stalkerware. This was done together with a representative from Europol’s European Cybercrime Center EC3 in order to identify ways to act together against this developing cyberthreat.

As October is also the month dedicated to raising awareness on cybersecurity in many countries, Kaspersky organized regional digital events aimed at users in the German speaking region of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, as well as in English speaking areas of North America. Kaspersky teamed up with well-known influencers, as well as experts in stalking prevention and combating digital abuse, to reach a wider public audience and inform them about tech-enabled abuse and stalkerware.

Activities for the UN’s 16 Days of Activism

As part of its ongoing work, Coalition members have planned a few activities in support of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which will be running until December 10. This includes today, the WWP EN kicking off a European campaign against cyber-violence. The 2020 Responsible Together campaign aims to spread awareness on cyber-violence against women and girls. Kaspersky is proud to be a supporter of this campaign.

On the last day of the 16 Days of Activism, on December 10, Kaspersky will host another regional online event aimed at a French speaking audience to raise awareness about stalkerware. The event will facilitate a discussion on how individuals can protect themselves, with an influencer and the Centre Hubertine Auclert, a French non-profit member of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, also taking part. More information about other activities involving Coalition members can be found on the Coalition’s website.

For users who suspect they may be affected or are being impacted by stalkerware, Kaspersky has the following recommendations:

· Contact your local support organizations or the police. They can give you professional assistance if you are concerned about, or have found, stalkerware on your device. The Coalition Against Stalkerware website is able to provide a list of support organizations

· Visit www.stopstalkerware.org and watch an explanatory video by the Coalition Against Stalkerware - both of which are available in six languages (English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish) - to find helpful information for survivors to better understand and detect the warning signs of stalkerware. The video lists common indicators to check if someone thinks they may affected by stalkerware, and what steps they should and shouldn’t take·         

· Use proven cybersecurity protection, such as Kaspersky Internet Security, to run a check on your device and discover if stalkerware has been installed on it.

Topics: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women , Coalition Against Stalkerwarem Centre Hubertine Auclert
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