Info-tech

Sharp rise in use of online spying and stalking apps during lockdown

Our Bureau. Mumbai | Updated on July 20, 2020

India has witnessed a 51 per cent rise in the use of spy and stalkerware since the lockdown in March until June, in comparison with January and February, according to a report by Avast.

Since March, Avast has protected over 4,000 users from apps capable of spying, mostly stalkerware, with the monthly average increase of 20 per cent versus the first two months of the year.

Stalkerware is unethical software that allows people to track someone's location, access their photos and videos, intercept e-mails, texts and app communications such as WhatsApp and Facebook. It’s also used to eavesdrop on phone calls and make covert recordings of conversations over the internet, without the target's knowledge.

Among the entire range of spy and stalkerware, several Covid-19 related apps designed to spy on users collected more information about its users than required to function, it said.

Avast threat analysts have found three stalkerware apps in India that are named after India's official Covid-19 app, Aarogya Setu, and use an icon looking like, or reminding of the official app’s icon. When downloaded, the official Aarogya Setu app gets installed along with the stalkerware app.

The stalkerware apps use the original app to get approval from the user to allow the collection of sensitive information. To spy on the user, it then uses the AcessibilityService of Android to get various permissions and have the ability to – make phone calls, get SIM serial number, read contacts, read phone state, read and send text messages, record calls and audio, queries call log, access device location and ID.

The apps can also hide their icon, making it hard for the victim to notice; they also can mute the ringer.

“Stalkerware is a growing category of domestic malware with disturbing and dangerous implications. While spyware and infostealers seek to steal personal data, stalkerware is different: it steals the physical and online freedom of the victim. Usually installed secretly on mobile phones by so-called friends, jealous spouses, ex-partners, and even concerned parents, stalkerware tracks the physical location of the victim, monitors sites visited on the internet, text messages and phone calls, undermining a person’s individual liberty and online freedom,” Avast Chief Information Security Officer Jaya Baloo said.

Published on July 20, 2020

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