The risk of finding cell phone spyware on a mobile device
has grown more than 5 times
over the last three years in Argentina, according to a new report from cybersecurity company Avast.
Stalkerware , as this type of virus is known, represents a problem
privacy and device performance.
Avast detected a
growth in Argentina between January 2020 and December 2022. “Avast Threat Researchers found that the number of people attacked by stalkerware in Argentina grew from an average rate of 5 per 100,000 people in 2020 to 26 per every 100,000 in 2022”, they explained in a report shared with
"The growth we're seeing is very worrying," says Jakub Vavra, the company's threat operations analyst.
“Such spyware is often secretly installed on mobile phones by
abusive spouses, ex-partners
, so-called friends or concerned parents, and has the capacity to inflict serious physical and psychological damage on those affected,” he adds.
"It's not just about stealing personal data, there are also tangible implications for the security of the attacked person," he continues.
According to him, one of the most worrying aspects is that these apps
They are available in
official stores like Google Play Store.
The data is consistent with the increase in cybercrime that Avast registered over the past year in general: 200% in Argentina, with more than
detections in 2022 and with a 63% increase in snooping (the practice of spying on cell phones). of the couple),
What is stalkerware and where did it come from?
A type of malware to spy on.
This virus owes its name to stalking: it is a portmanteau of the words “
” (to harass) and “
”, short for “software” (program).
Used mainly in abusive situations and toxic relationships, it is a type of virus that impacts various areas of a person: considering that the cell phone is a central part of online life, having the phone tapped can be extremely dangerous.
“The origin of stalkerware is not very clear, but some reports suggest that the first cases appeared in the
At that time, monitoring and espionage programs were created for government and military use.
Over time, some of these programs were leaked and used to spy on ordinary people”, contextualizes Santiago Pérez, a security analyst at Birmingham Cyber Arms LTD.
With the passage of time, its use became more widespread.
“In the last decade, there has been an increase in the availability of these programs online.
They are often marketed as tools to monitor children or employees, spy on a partner, or harass someone,” continues the expert.
As early as 2010, spyware "added various stealth functions, as well as more comprehensive surveillance of victims' devices," Vavra adds.
“Extracting SMS messages, call logs, and even messaging apps became more common over time.
The stalkerware authors created
that could be used to monitor victims and were accessible online, streamlining the stalking process,” he adds.
How to know if you are being watched
WhatsApp, one of the most spied on applications.
“Once installed on a device,
they are completely hidden
or presented as Notes applications to evade detection by the unsuspecting phone owner.
The stalker can control these apps remotely and carry out similar malicious activities,” warns the Avast expert.
However, there are symptoms that can
set off alarms
and denote its presence.
“Once installed, it usually
impacts the overall performance
of the device, something to be expected if we take into account that it is a software in charge of granting constant visibility to a third party: this dramatically triggers the device's processing,” warns Pérez.
The expert lists these warning signs that suggest the presence of stalkerware:
New, never-before-seen programs
set to start automatically or as services
being used for general system navigation or browsers
Increase in data
(much more noticeable than on WiFi, for example).
when turning on/off the device
Avast's Vavra adds two points that have more to do with the social than the technical: it can not only be detected on the phone but also in the use that the attacker makes of that information: “Having inexplicable calls in the log or that the
knows things about what you do, where you go and who you communicated with, are other symptoms that may indicate their presence.
How to remove stalkerware
Some of these applications also record logins.
From Avast they give the following advice to eliminate these programs, not without making an important warning: "First of all, in a situation of coercive control, removing stalkerware from your phone could inform the attacker that you have found and eliminated it, which could endanger your physical safety. So make sure you are not harmed before removing the stalkerware app from your phone."
the phone in safe mode: Press and hold the phone's power button to see the Power off and Restart options.
Press and hold the Power off option and the Restart in safe mode option will appear.
any suspicious apps
Once booted into safe mode, open Settings and tap Apps or Apps & notifications.
Sort apps and find anything unrecognizable.
any malicious app.
For this, it is best to have an antivirus, although some of these applications escape detection.
A good idea is to search the web for the name of the applications that we have installed and that sound suspicious to us.
It is likely that other users have reported it and it serves as a case to consider uninstalling an app.
About the Avast study
The data in the report comes from the Avast Threat Detection Network and represents stalkerware detected and blocked on mobile devices
between January 2020 and December 2022.
refers to the risk
, which is defined as the ratio of people attacked by spyware and actively protected by Avast in the given country and month in relation to the total number of active users in the given country and month," they clarify. from the company.
In this sense, these numbers must be
taken as a trend
and not as definitive, since it is one of the largest cybersecurity companies in the world, but not the only one.
consulted for the margin of error that this may have, since there could be false positives in the study.
“We manually crafted strain-specific detections after reviewing the potential for misuse and abuse the app could cause.
In this way we considerably minimize the possibility of false positives and are confident in the accuracy of our figures,” Vavra warned.
“Various stalkerware apps are present on official or third-party app stores, which means that users may get a detection pop-up once they download an app from these stores.
Although the application may seem official,
we focus on its ability to be used to stalk
and abuse its victims," closed the representative of the antivirus company.
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