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.
Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall
Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics
Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.
Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.
Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.
Key report findings include:
- The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
- But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
- Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.
Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.
“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”
Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”
New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones
Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.
Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.
Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides.
But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world
In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.
Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.
Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.
Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.