Before the pandemic, Sarah S. met her new boyfriend Dave through an online dating website.
When they first met, Dave told Sarah that he wanted to stop using the website, so the two began chatting on the phone.
Soon after, they started a more serious relationship.
But this is when Sarah noticed some strange things happening.
Dave would somehow know details about her private conversations with family and friends.
These conversations took place on phone apps and text messages, so there was no way Dave should have known.
This is when Sarah realized that Dave had installed some sort of stalkerware on her phone.
Stalkerware is an app or software that someone can install on a smartphone or tablet.
The app operates without the smartphone owner’s knowledge.
The software can appear to look like something such as a calculator app that most people ignore.
And even if a stalkerware app is deleted, the software could still be running in the background.
These apps record data such as the phone’s location, calls, texts, photos and e-mails.
They can also be used to catch cheaters.
Sarah doesn’t know when Dave installed the stalkerware on her phone, but she says it was (clearly) the ultimate betrayal.
Unfortunately, this story is all too common…
One in five women, and one in ten men, will be victims of stalking.
And a shocking one in ten people admit to using stalkerware to track a partner.
As proof, from January to May 2020, the cybersecurity company Malwarebytes said stalkerware detections spiked by 190%.
In Sarah’s case, Dave accessed her social media and deleted her male friends.
Sarah admits that she didn’t take the matter seriously enough and made excuses for Dave.
But as time went on, Dave became controlling, abusive and violent.
Sarah recalled that after having surgery she noticed her pain medication disappearing.
On another occasion, Dave threatened to shoot himself in front of Sarah.
This is when she stopped making excuses for the behavior and ended the relationship.
The fact is, while stalkerware can be difficult to detect, if you think you might be a victim of it, here are signs to look for on your device.
If someone downloads stalkerware to your device they might make changes to the settings.
For example, they may change the permissions or access certain aspects of the device.
If you notice a new browser, app, or icon, this could be a sign that someone added something to your device.
It’s good to review the apps on your device to make sure there is nothing new that you didn’t allow.
If you have a smartphone that is a few years old then you know how the battery life decreases.
But, if you have a newer phone, or your battery starts draining at an unusual rate, there could be more to it.
When stalkerware is on a device it runs in the background.
And while it operates without you knowing, it still uses up your device’s battery.
So, your phone may be working a lot harder to run everything, which can drain the battery faster.
Receiving strange messages:
When your device has stalkerware it’s not uncommon to get a lot of strange messages.
For example, you may start to see more pop-up ads on your phone.
Also, you might receive unusual messages from an app you already have installed.
Plus, apps may constantly have glitches or crash.
If you get a strange message, check to see if you use the app the message originated from.
If not, this could be stalkerware operating.
On a technical note, some stalkerware apps alert operators when they’re deleted.
So, if you find a stalkerware app and you are afraid of a stalker, you should make sure you are in a safe location.
If you suspect that someone might be spying on you through your smartphone use these tips to find out.
Check out more Making Sense of Security.