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Report reveals rise in global digital stalking in 2023
Thu, 21st Mar 2024

In a world where digital stalking is becoming an increasing menace, Kaspersky's newest report on stalkerware reveals nearly 31,000 mobile users worldwide fell victim to such abuse in 2023. Stalkerware, also known as spouseware, is a type of commercial software created with the primary purpose of spying on the user of the device on which it is installed.

These figures suggest a roughly 6% increase compared to the numbers in 2022, highlighting the escalating problem of digital stalking globally. Furthermore, 40% of the surveyed respondents admitted they have either been victims of stalking or suspected that they were. Stalkerware, often masquerading as legitimate apps like child-monitoring or anti-theft applications, typically gets installed without the intended target's consent or knowledge, providing the perpetrator with means to control the victim's life.

The Kaspersky report titled 'State of Stalkerware 2023' showed that 31,031 unique individuals worldwide were subjected to stalkerware in 2023, inverting the downward trend noticed in 2021. The top three countries affected the most in 2023 were Russia, with 9,890affected users, Brazil, with 4,186, and India, with 2,492 users. Though Iran entered the list of the top five countries in the previous year, the top 10 list remains relatively unchanged compared to 2021.

The report also revealed a diverse experience of abuse, with nearly 40% of respondents stating they endured violence or abuse at the hands of current or ex-partners. Further, 23% admitted they had faced online stalking by someone they were recently dating. Altruistically, more than half (54%) of the respondents disapproved of monitoring a partner's activities without their consent. Even so, a significant 27% believed in complete transparency in relationships and considered mutual monitoring acceptable.

David Emm, a security and data privacy expert at Kaspersky, elaborated on this delicate balance between maintaining close relationships and protecting personal information. He highlighted the need for improved digital literacy and robust communication, thereby empowering individuals to make informed decisions regarding sharing personal information within relationships.

Stalkerware is part of a broader problem of tech-enabled abuse, especially common in abusive relationships. The report underlined the prevalent use of such tools to infringe upon someone's privacy and the growing acceptance of sharing personal information within relationships. Erica Olsen, Senior Director at the Safety Net Project, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), emphasised the need for a clear distinction between consensual sharing and non-consensual monitoring.

Emma Pickering from Refuge shared similar concerns about the increase in stalkerware reports and spotlighted the recognition of the misuse of other technologies to cause harm. She urged the importance of detailed tech assessments to support survivors, in conjunction with proactive work with the wider tech community for safer, more empathetic tech design.

Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity and digital privacy company, along with other stakeholders, continues to research, communicate and collaborate on solutions to tackle this issue. In 2019, the company was the first to develop a new attention-grabbing alert system notifying users if stalkerware is detected on their device. They also co-founded the international working group against stalkerware and domestic violence, the Coalition Against Stalkerware.