Stalkerware or how your loved ones can spy on you

Anton P. | July 23, 2020

Stalkerware is one of the stealthy and invasive forms of malware. Surprisingly, it’s a commercially available software, but with a sinister twist. Unlike the majority types of malware that seek to gain access to personal data, stalkerware has a different objective. It steals physical freedom and abuses one’s trust. Learn what this threatful software is about, what kind of damage it does, and how to fight it.

What is stalkerware?

Stalkerware refers to a spyware program, designed to track individuals. It’s a publicly available tool, frequently marketed as parental monitoring software. Abusers install them without the victims’ knowledge, and the program runs silently in the background. According to statistics, they are the most popular in Russia, but have some influence in other regions as well.

Usually, the installer is someone close to the victim: friends, spouses, employers, or concerned parents. Stalkerware requires physical access to one’s device. In most cases, it runs in stealth mode without any identifiable signs of its presence. All icons or notifications are completely unnoticeable.

How does it work?

While continuously running on your device, stalkerware programs can monitor almost all your actions. Text messages, phone calls, photos, physical locations, or the visited websites: all these details are available to the abuser. More sophisticated tools are even capable of making video and voice recordings.

Stalkerware tools are accessible to anyone, not just hackers. Regular users can find and download them after a quick internet search. Creators usually market their products as the go-to tools for keeping children safe from harmful content. In reality, obsessive partners or family members can track their loved ones due to a lack of trust. However, other companies are open about their services and intend their tools for “spousal monitoring” exclusively.

Detecting stalkerware

Recognizing stalkerware on your device may be challenging. Red flags include a rapid battery drain, spikes in cellular data usage, or other irregularities, such as random reboots. However, the most evident indication is that your partner or family member seems to know a lot about your behavior. Hence, you should rely more on your instincts and look for such or similar patterns.

No matter how much you trust your inner circle, always cross-check your device to look for unauthorized setting adjustments or unknown apps. If you come across an app you don’t recognize, run a quick web search to learn its purpose. Besides keeping an eye out for intrusive programs, remember to keep your credentials a secret. You should always monitor your accounts and logins from different places or unknown devices.

Fighting stalkerware

If you suspect that you fell victim to stalkerware, fret not. There are effective yet simple ways to keep unwanted software away from you.

  • Safeguard devices against unauthorized physical access. Set up lock-screens, face IDs, thumbprints, or PIN code protection to keep gadgets private.
  • Change passwords and security reset questions regularly.
  • Don’t share your credentials with anyone, and don’t use the same combinations on multiple accounts.
  • Install reputable antivirus software. Anti-malware tools may detect stalkerware as a PUP (potentially unwanted program) and give you the option to delete it.
  • Don’t root (Android) or jailbreak (iOS) your smartphone. Many invasive stalkerware features don’t work unless your phone gets rooted or jailbroken. To root or to jailbreak means to remove the limitations set by the manufacturer. At the same time, it means to undermine built-in security measures and make your device susceptible to various cyber threats.
Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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