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How to protect your mobile phone from cyberstalkers and hackers

A hacker looks at code on a smartphone and laptop

Stalkerware, also known as Spouseware, is the name given to a class of spyware that is commonly used by domestic abusers and angry exes to spy on their victim’s phone and gain access to private information.

Companies like FlexiSpy and mSpy are making stalkerware easily accessible to anyone for as little as $30, often marketed as a tool to “keep your child safe” or “catch a cheating spouse.” A 2016 report by Vice found that FlexiSpy had a monthly sales volume of more than $400,000 for their stalkerware products, meaning that over the course of a year, there could be more than 100,000 new stalkerware victims for this company alone.

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According to Certo Software, a mobile anti-spyware company, demand for tools to detect stalkerware on cellphones has tripled in the last two years, and positive detections of stalkerware on iPhones has doubled this year alone.

While these companies state that their products should not be used on someone’s device without their permission, in reality this is not the case in the vast majority of situations, and these disclaimers clash with often blatant advertising that recommends using it to spy on romantic partners.

Once one of these intrusive apps is installed on a victim’s device, a stalker can monitor their exact location, read messages, view photos and even silently turn on their microphone to listen in whenever they want.

Today there are over 25,000 apps that facilitate stalking or spying, many of which can be downloaded from the official app stores or directly from the developer’s website. They’re not hard to find, either, with one of the most popular stalking tools, mSpy, even spotted in a Twitter advert last month.

Stalkerware is most common on Android devices, but iPhones are by no means immune to hacking. If you’re concerned about stalkerware finding its way onto your phone, you’ll probably head over to your app store to get an anti-stalkerware app. However, while there are a number of great security apps available for Android devices, such as Malwarebytes and Sophos AV, you’ll find that apps offering spyware/stalkerware detection simply don’t exist for Apple mobile devices.

Given the popularity of iPhones, this may seem strange, but the reason actually lies with Apple themselves as they don’t allow anti-stalkerware apps within their App Store, claiming that their devices do not need them. Hard to believe, isn’t it? That for one of the most popular phones in the world, the average user has no easy way to check if their device is hacked.

There have been several security vulnerabilities affecting iPhones in the news recently. Most notably the WhatsApp attack earlier in the year and a mistake in iOS 12.4 whereby a previously fixed bug, which let hackers install spyware on iPhones, was accidentally reintroduced by Apple. All prompting people to question whether Apple’s devices are as secure as we once thought.

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