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The increased use of Spyware in personal relationships

04 November 2019

Have you started to notice that your partner seems to know where you are all the time?  Do they know about things that you haven’t shared with them? 

This may be because they are using spyware to track your location and access your computer or mobile phone.  This is commonly known as stalkerware or spouseware, and is easily available online. The different types currently available, according to techno company Zero Day, are:

SpyPhone Android Rec Pro: This £143 spyware claims to offer "full control" over a smartphone's functions, including listening in to the background noise of calls and recording them in their entirety; intercepting and sending copies of SMS and MMS messages sent from the victim's phone, sending activity reports to the user's email address, and more.

FlexiSpy: One of the most well-known forms of stalkerware out there is FlexiSpy, which markets itself using the slogan: "It takes complete control of the device, letting you know everything, no matter where you are." FlexiSpy is able to monitor both Android smartphones and PCs and is willing to deliver a device with the malware pre-installed to users. The spyware is able to listen in on calls, spy on apps including Facebook, Viber, and WhatsApp, turn on the infected device's microphone covertly, record Android VoIP calls, exfiltrate content such as photos, and intercept both SMS messages and emails. At the time of writing, marketing seems to be geared -- at least, publicly -- towards parents. The first image you see on the service's website shows a teenager on her handset, with a message, "My dad's not here. Meet me at 10."

mSpy: Another stalkerware app which markets itself as a service for parents, mSpy for the iPhone allows users to monitor SMS messages, phone calls, GPS locations, apps including Snapchat and WhatsApp, and also includes a keylogger to record every keystroke made on the target device.

PhoneSpector: Designed for both Android and iOS handsets, PhoneSpector claims to offer "undetectable remote access." While a disclaimer says that the service is designed for parents and businesses seeking to track company-owned devices used by employees only, the implementation of the software is made through common tactics used by malware and phishing campaigns. "All you have to do is text or email the OTA (over-the-air) link to the target device and our automated system will set up data transfer protocol and the necessary info for you to monitor the device," the company proclaims. "Just tap a few buttons, then login to your online account! You can be viewing texts, calls, GPS and more within a few short minutes!"

MobileTracker, FoneMonitor, Spyera, SpyBubble, Spyzie, Android Spy, and Mobistealth are a few more examples of stalkerware which offer similar features, among many, many more in what has become a booming business.

It is illegal in the UK to use spyware on a spouse without their permission.  The Crown Prosecution Service says there aren't specific laws related to the use of stalkerware but any criminal activity like this can be prosecuted by a number of means including the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.  Within the family court there is potential for this to be dealt with within the Family Law Act 1996, by way of a domestic injunction, such as a non-molestation order.

So, what can you do to remove spyware or prevent it being installed?

Kaspersky, who provide well known anti-virus software say:

 “IT security companies and advocacy organizations working with domestic abuse victims should join forces to ensure that cybersecurity companies respond better to stalkerware. Such initiatives would help victims through technology and expertise.”

In 2018, Kaspersky found stalkerware on 58,487 mobile devices.

Some anti-virus software can now detect stalkerware,  If you are concerned, check your apps.  Any apps that you don’t use or don’t recognise should be removed.

Some stalkerware is not obviously detectable and will show as something else, for example one person reported that it showed on their mobile phone as ‘Wifi’.

It’s hard to place stalkerware on a mobile phone without having access to it, so we would recommend always having a pin protected lock screen (and not sharing your pin!)  For people in abusive relationships where a partner demands access to your devices, this isn’t always possible.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article contact Taylor Bracewell’s Family Team for advice on 0114 272 1884 or 01302 341 414