Cyberstalking rife in the UK, claims Kaspersky

Ahead of the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women tomorrow (25th November), fresh research data into stalkerware and tech abuse suggests that the UK has one of the highest levels of cyberstalking in Europe.

Kaspersky’s research highlights that the UK ranks second-highest for domestic abuse in Europe: nearly three-in-10 surveyed UK adults (27%) have experienced violence or abuse committed by their partner – higher than the European average of 21%.

Amid this increase in safety concerns, stalkerware is software commercially available to everyone. This software provides access to a breadth of personal data, such as live location, text messages, social media conversations, browser history, photos and more.

With 8% of UK adults admitting their partner had become more controlling during the pandemic, Kaspersky data also found that people in Britain are more likely to feel justified in stalking their partner (11%) without their knowledge. Similarly, the same percentage of UK adults say they have been forced to install stalkerware apps on their smartphone by a partner – the joint-highest score in Europe, along with the Czech Republic.

Nearly a fifth (24%) of surveyed UK adults worry about their partner violating their privacy, with more than half (54%) worrying a privacy violation will be carried out through the monitoring of their text messages – meanwhile, more than half (51%) know the password on their partner’s phone, showing that a discrepancy between concern and behaviour.

On a global scale, the results show that the UK has the highest number of people who feel justified in digitally stalking their partner online if they felt they were being unfaithful: 76%, compared to the average of 64%.

Says Gina Martin, campaigner, writer and speaker who is an advocate for creating change within communities for equal rights and fought to make ‘up-skirting’ illegal as part of the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019:

“This research paints an alarming picture that the UK has a very serious problem with both online stalking and domestic abuse, which are intrinsically linked. Digital stalking is a distressing act that can lead to physical acts of violence and abuse. It’s vital that more people are aware of its dangers and given the tools, advice and support they need to combat it.”

As part of its ongoing investigation into stalkerware, Kaspersky also found that that 15% of UK respondents have been digitally stalked and in 44% of those cases, apps on the victim’s smartphone were used. Other means of stalking victims include tracking devices (28%) webcams (23%), laptop apps (22%) and smart home devices (15%). It’s clear that more education is needed around stalkerware, and how many different forms it can take, given that just 20% of UK adults said they know what stalkerware is – the lowest percentage of people globally.

David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky, echoes the need for more education around the dangers. 

“The growth in stalkerware poses a huge concern – and we fear that these latest, worrying figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Stalkerware typically runs in the background without the affected individual noticing. To avoid the risk of someone installing stalkerware on your phone, it’s always important to use a complex lock screen password and avoid leaving the device unlocked.”

A large number of UK respondents (79%) said they would confront their partner if they suspected stalkerware had been installed on their device. However, charity Refuge warns against this direct course of action.

Emma Pickering, tech abuse team manager at Refuge, comments:

“These findings demonstrate the need to train, support and educate people when it comes to stalkerware – especially around the best course of action to take. We wouldn’t encourage anyone worried about their partner monitoring them to discuss it with them directly – doing so could comprise their safety and escalate the risk they are facing. No-one should live in fear of violence, stalking and abuse – and we’re shocked to see such a high number of people feeling justified in monitoring their partner’s activity. Stalking by any means is never justifiable.”

For those who suspect they may be affected or are being monitored by stalkerware, Kaspersky recommends the following steps:

  • Check the list of applications on your device to find out if unknown programs have been installed without your consent.
  • Don’t rush to remove any stalkerware found on your device, as the abuser may notice. It is very important to consider whether the perpetrator may be a potential risk to your safety before determining appropriate action to take.
  • When taking action, contact local authorities and service organisations that support victims of domestic violence to gain assistance and help with safety planning.
  • Watch the Coalition Against Stalkerware’s video (available in multiple languages) on how to protect against stalkerwareThere is also a dedicated page for victims and survivors on detection, removal and prevention of this software.
  • Use a reliable security solution, such as Kaspersky Internet Security, which notifies you about the presence of commercial spyware programs, aimed at invading your privacy, on your phone. To find out more about Kaspersky and its partner, Coalition Against Stalkerware, please visit the official website
Chris Price