This article deals with gender-specific violence. We would like to remind you that the browser history can be monitored and tracked on your devices – including this story. If you suspect that you are being monitored and need help, please contact an organization close to you. Further information and a list of resources can be found on the website of the Coalition Against Stalkerware.
Sometimes technology, even the cheap kind, can become a weapon. Stalkerware is proof of this. The apps are easy to find on the internet, cost only a few euros per month and are perfect for monitoring another person around the clock. Where was she? Who was she exchanging messages with? What websites did she visit and what passwords were used? The app turns the mobile phone into a bug that relays everything you entrusted to it – even encrypted chats can be read. A tool for total surveillance.
Stalkerware becomes a major problem in connection with domestic violence. But people looking to detect and uninstall such programs on their smartphone are looking at a difficult task. Most apps are quite good at hiding their presence. They don’t show up on the display at all, or if they do, then only under unsuspicious aliases such as „Wifi Check“.
On the trail of the spy software
The programs still leave traces though. Security researcher Etienne Maynier, also known online as Tek, has taken the trouble to follow these traces and document them. In an archive on GitHub, he has published a number of clues that reveal the presence of some of the most common spyware programs for Android devices.
The archive contains a list of web domains that the apps regularly contact. Stalkerware apps always forward the stolen information to a server, where it can be easily viewed by the stalker. Maynier also lists the names of the various package files and the associated hash values, a kind of digital fingerprint that can be used to check whether two files are identical. Antivirus programs use this to search for malware on phones.
Maynier lives in Berlin and works in his day job for Amnesty International, where he analyses the digital surveillance of human rights activists.