India has emerged as the third biggest victim of digital violence in the world and the biggest in the Asia-Pacific region with at least 2,492 users reporting the incidence of abuse. Russia with 9,890 victims and Brazil with 4,186 occupied the top rankings. 

The assessment was based on the State of Stalkware 2023 report published by cybersecurity solutions company Kaspersky. It found that about 31,000 mobile users across the world were subjected to stalkerware, clandestine surveillance software utilised by domestic abusers to monitor their victims. This an increase of about six per cent increase over the 29,312 users who were subjected to stalkware in in 2022. 

“But it’s not just stalkerware software that is a problem, the real problem is the growing incidence of cyber stalking. About 40 per cent of the people surveyed said they experienced stalking or suspected being stalked,” the report said.

Stalkerware is the malicious software that masquerades as legitimate anti-theft or parental control apps on smartphones, tablets, and computers.

“But in reality, they are very different. Installed—usually without consent and notification of the person being tracked—they provide a perpetrator with the means to gain control over a victim’s life. Stalkerware capabilities vary depending on the application,” it said.

Diverse victims

The spectrum of abuse is diverse, with over one-third (39 per cent) of respondents worldwide reporting experiences of violence or abuse from a current or previous partner. Of those questioned for the report, 23 per cent of people worldwide revealed they have encountered some form of online stalking from someone they were recently dating. 

About 12 per cent admitted to installing or setting parameters on their partner’s phone, while 9 per cent acknowledged pressuring their partner to install monitoring apps.

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“These findings highlight the delicate balance individuals strike between intimacy and safeguarding personal information,” David Emm, security and data privacy expert at Kaspersky, said.

In most countries around the world, use of stalkerware software is currently not prohibited but installing such an application on another individual’s smartphone without their consent is illegal and punishable.

Stalkerware features

Some of the common features of stalkware include: Hiding the app icon, reading SMS, MMS and call logs, getting lists of contacts, tracking geolocation, tracking calendar events, reading messages from popular instant messaging services and social networks, viewing photos and pictures from phones’ image galleries, taking screenshots, and taking pictures with the front cameras of mobile phones.