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The increased use of Spyware in personal relationships

30 September 2021

Sharon McKie

Person being tracked with spyware

Does your partner seem 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 stalker ware or spouseware, and is easily available online. The different types currently available, according to techno company Zero Day, are:

SpyPhone Android Rec ProThis 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.

FlexiSpyOne 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. At the time of writing, marketing seems to be geared  towards parents and employers.  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  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.

WhatsAppPhoneSpector: 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. The company offers solutions to access someone’s whatsapp “without ruffling any feathers”

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. It is also illegal under the Computer Misuse Act to gain access to a person’s computer without their knowledge or consent.

 

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

 

Kaspersky, who provide well known anti-virus software found 53,870 of their mobile users were affected by stalker ware in 2020. The US, Russia and Brazil are the most affected countries. The UK is the third most affected country in Europe.

Some anti-virus software can now detect stalker ware,  If you are concerned, check your Apps.  Any Apps that you don’t use or don’t recognise should be removed from your phone.

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

It’s hard to place stalker ware on a mobile phone without someone having physical access to it. 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 01302 341 414