Kaspersky Lab says its Kaspersky Internet Security for Android with Privacy Alert app will now flag commercially available spyware, sometimes dubbed “stalkerware,” when it’s found on users’ phones.
The software isn’t itself thought to be illegal, and it’s sometimes marketed for use by parents or employers to monitor phone use, but it can be used by stalkers and abusive partners to track people’s locations, photos, texts, and online activity, sometimes without them realizing it’s installed on their phones. In some cases, it can even capture audio and images in real time.
“We believe users have a right to know if such a program is installed on their device,” said Kaspersky security researcher Alexey Firsh in a statement. “Our new alert will help them to do that and assess the risk properly.”
Generally, the software has to be installed by someone with access to a phone, but that can be done without someone’s knowledge if they leave their phone unattended. They’re generally not distributed through mainstream software markets, like Apple’s App Store and Google Play, which means the software is usually harder to install on iOS devices, which must be jailbroken before such tools can be installed, according to a blog post by Firsh. The company found more than 58,000 users with such tools installed on phones or tablets in 2018, Firsh wrote.
Kaspersky’s app will now flag the software when it’s found and give users the option to delete it or leave it in place.