It isn't always hackers with monetary gains in mind that are trying to break into your smartphone. A disgruntled or jealous spouse may be keeping an eye on your smartphone too using a hidden tool called spyware, also referred to as stalkerware.
With smartphones now involved in a lot of our personal or social online activities, there is a lot that one can learn from them. No wonder, use of stalkerware has been growing.
According to Kaspersky's state of stalkerware in 2019 report, 37,532 unique users were targeted by a stalkerware installation attempt worldwide in 2019 (between January and August), an increase of 35% since 2018, when 27,798 users were targeted.
The availability of newer variants of such apps is also contributing to the menace. Kaspersky detected 380 variants of spyware on the Internet in 2019 and claim that 290 of them were potentially dangerous. The availability of new variants has also increased by 31% since last year.
Interestingly, while spyware attacks have been growing globally, its use in India has dropped drastically by 67%.
Kaspersky's senior security researcher (APAC) Saurabh Sharma attributes this to growing awareness among Indian smartphone users regarding the various threats.
A spyware attack can be carried out remotely or directly on the smartphone. In the first case, attacker sends an email with a malicious link, which when clicked by the target installs clicks the spyware. In the second case, attacker install the app manually in the phone. This is a lot simpler to carry out as one only needs the password or pin to physically unlock the phone, something that may not be very difficult for a spouse.
Many of the spyware apps such as Fkexispy and PhoneSheriff can be easily found online on third-party stores.
Kaspersky warns that a spyware can give an attacker unfettered access to the target's smartphone, allowing them to read messages, view photos and videos, listen to audio recordings, see geolocation and follow social media activities in real time. While all this surveillance is going on, victim remains largely unaware as most of these apps run in invisible mode and do not show in the app drawer like other regular apps.
The numbers are based on threats detected by Kaspersky. The overall spyware attacks are likely to be a lot higher.