How to check if that mobile app is spying on you

As smartphone users, many of us don’t think twice before handing over our devices to people we trust. Be it family, a friend or a colleague. Sometimes, it’s for the simplest of tasks—clicking a picture, trying that latest game or just listening to music.

But given the rapidly spreading use of a menacing form of spyware called stalkerware, it may be time to keep that mobile phone safe even from those you trust. And watch out for telltale signs that it may be compromised.

Also read: How to protect your phone from malware and cybercriminals

“Spyware”, as the word suggests, is any software that installs itself on your phone or any other device and starts monitoring your online behaviour without your knowledge. Once in control, attackers can access the camera to take pictures, record video and audio, and track a user’s precise GPS location. Stalkerware is one of the easiest to access.

“The main difference between stalkerware and other types of malware is that stalkerware usually is not used by some anonymous cybercriminals but rather by people that are known and often even very close to the victim,” says Ondrej David, malware analysis team leader at the multinational cybersecurity company Avast. “It is usually installed discreetly on smartphones by their ‘friends’, jealous spouses or ex-partners,” David explains on email.

In fact, Avast identified patterns between the use of stalkerware and the covid-19 lockdown in 2020. Last year, Avast Threat Labs, a global cybersecurity network feed of security researchers, discovered a 51% increase in spyware and stalkerware from March-June compared to January-February. It’s a trend that has shown a particularly steep upward curve in the second quarter of 2021, says David. In the case of India, Avast Threat Labs observed a 30% increase in spyware and stalkerware compared to the first quarter and a 47% year-on-year increase.

According to reports from other cybersecurity companies, stalkerware is hitting users around the world. The State Of Stalkerware In 2020 report, released by the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky in February, showed that 53,870 mobile phone users were…