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‘Stalkerware’ grows 35%

Number of users that encountered “stalkerware” increased by 35% to 37000 in 2019, according to Kaspersky

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The number of users that encountered at least one so-called stalkerware (commercial spyware often used as a tool for domestic espionage) installation attempt surpassed 37,000 in the first eight months of 2019 (from January to August 2019). This is a 35% increase when compared to figures for the same period in 2018. What’s more, the threat landscape for stalkerware has widened, as Kaspersky has discovered 380 variants of stalkerware in the wild in 2019 – 31% more than a year ago. These are the major findings of Kaspersky’s The State of Stalkerware in 2019 report.

So-called Stalkerware programs carry the possibility for intrusion into a person’s private life. By using them, an abuser can access their victim’s messages, photographs, social media, geolocation and audio or camera recordings (in some cases, this can be done in real-time). Unlike legitimate parental control apps, such programs run hidden in the background, without a victim’s knowledge or consent. They are often promoted as software for spying on people’s partners.

In the first eight months of 2019, 37,532 unique users were targets of at least one attempt to infiltrate their device with stalkerware. In comparison, the figure for 2018 was 27,798 unique users. While these numbers may seem smaller than figures for other malware types (for example this equals only 9% of users attacked by financial threats detected in H1 2019), it is important to keep in mind that unlike most consumer threats, stalkerware is typically used through specifically targeting victims. Stalkerware often needs to be installed manually on the victim’s phone, so the abuser needs physical access to the device.

What’s more, further variations of stalkerware have become available on the market. In the first eight months of 2018, Kaspersky detection technologies spotted 290 potentially dangerous variants, in 2019 that number has grown by almost a third, to reach 380. This change was accompanied by the notable increase in the number of events when Kaspersky products detected the software in question on user devices: in 2019 it increased by 373%, reaching 518,223.  

Number of users targeted with Stalkerware in 2019

Among the countires most affected with stalkerware are Russia (27%), India and Brazil (both 11%). Across Africa, Kenya holds 13th place with 405 victims, South Africa holds 22nd place with 275 victims, Nigeria holds 24th place with 260 victims, and Egypt 25th place with 254 victims.

Commenting on the stalkerware issue, Erica Olsen, Director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said: “When designed to operate in complete stealth mode, with no persistent notification to the device owner, this software gives abusers and stalkers a robust tool to perpetrate harassment, monitoring, stalking, and abuse. This type of abuse can be terrifying, traumatising, and raises significant safety risks. It’s critical that we address both the availability of these apps and the use of them as a tool of abuse.”

“We have done a lot to increase the stalkerware detection capabilities of our products in the last few months, and will continue to do so alongside other industry players as we support the fight against stalkers. But there are still problems to solve. For instance, to find and agree on a definition of stalkerware that can be acknowledged by everybody in the industry. This would help distinguish such software better, and therefore better protect users from abusers of their privacy,” said Vladimir Kuskov, security expert at Kaspersky.

 

To avoid being monitored by stalkers, Kaspersky recommends:

  • Blocking the installation of programs from unknown sources in your smartphone’s settings.
  • Never disclosing the password or passcode to your mobile device, even if it is with someone you trust.
  • Never storing unfamiliar files or applications on your device, as they could harm your privacy.
  • Changing all security settings on your mobile device if you are leaving a relationship. An ex may try to acquire your personal information in order to manipulate you.
  • Checking the list of applications on the device to find out if suspicious programs were installed without your consent.
  • Using a reliable security solution that notifies you about the presence of commercial spyware programs aimed at invading your privacy on your phone, such as Kaspersky Internet Security.
  • If you think you are a subject of stalking and need help, contact a relevant organisation for professional help.

To learn more about stalkerware in 2019 read the report on Securelist.com.

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Small SA town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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Facebook fact-checking goes to 10 more African countries

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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