Latest Kapersky report reveals increase in digital violence

Ingolstadt, Germany

The latest Kaspersky State of Stalkerware 2023 report reveals almost 31,000 mobile users worldwide were subjected to stalkerware, clandestine surveillance software utilised by domestic abusers to monitor their victims. But, according to the research, it’s not just stalkerware software that is a problem, 40% of surveyed people worldwide stated they have experienced stalking or suspected being stalked.

Stalkerware typically masquerades as legitimate anti-theft or parental control apps on smartphones, tablets, and computers, but in reality, they are very different. Installed – usually without consent and notification of the person being tracked – they provide a perpetrator with the means to gain control over a victim’s life. Stalkerware capabilities vary depending on the application.

The State of Stalkerware is an annual report by Kaspersky which aims to provide a better understanding of the globally number of people affected by digital stalking. In 2023, Kaspersky data reveals 31,031 unique individuals around the world were affected by stalkerware, an almost six percent year-on-year increase (5.8%) increase of the 29,312 users affected in 2022. The figures reverse the downward trend of 2021, confirming digital stalking continues to be a global problem.

According to the Kaspersky Security Network, in 2023, users in Russia (9,890), Brazil (4,186), and India (2,492) were the top three countries most affected. Iran entered the top five in the previous year and remains. When compared to 2021, the top 10 affected countries have changed little. While Germany dropped from seven to 10, Saudi Ariba (ranked eighth in 2022) is not most affected this year.

Stalking and violence – offline and online

The spectrum of abuse is diverse, with over one-third (39%) of respondents worldwide reporting experiences of violence or abuse from a current or previous partner. Of those questioned for the report, 23% of people worldwide revealed they have encountered some form of online stalking from someone they were recently dating. Furthermore, overall 40% reported experiencing stalking or suspecting being stalked.

9% admitted to pressuring partner to install monitoring apps

On the other side, 12% admitted to installing or setting parameters on their partner's phone, while nine percent acknowledged pressuring their partner to install monitoring apps. Nevertheless, the notion of monitoring a partner without their awareness is disapproved by the majority of individuals (54%), reflecting a prevailing sentiment against such behaviour. Regarding attitudes toward consensually monitoring a partner's online activities, 45 percent of respondents express disapproval, highlighting the significance of privacy rights. Conversely, 27 percent support full transparency in relationships, viewing consensual monitoring as appropriate, while 12 percent deem it acceptable only when mutual agreement is reached.

“These findings highlight the delicate balance individuals strike between intimacy and safeguarding personal information. It's positive to observe increased caution, especially regarding sensitive data like security device passwords. The reluctance to share such critical access aligns with cyber security principles. The willingness to share streaming service passwords and photos signifies a cultural shift, though individuals should recognise potential risks even in seemingly innocuous information sharing. These insights underscore the importance of fostering open communication within relationships, establishing clear boundaries, and promoting digital literacy. For security professionals, it reinforces the need for ongoing education on cyber security best practices and empowering individuals to make informed decisions about sharing personal information within relationships,” said David Emm, security and data privacy expert at Kaspersky.

The fight against stalkerware needs partnerships

In most countries around the world, use of stalkerware software is currently not prohibited but installing such an application on another individual’s smartphone without their consent is illegal and punishable. However, it is the perpetrator who will be held responsible, not the developer of the application. Along with other related technologies, stalkerware is one element of tech-enabled abuse and often used in abusive relationships.

Erica Olsen, Senior Director, Safety Net Project, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) commented on the report: “This report highlights both the prevalence of stalking behaviour perpetrated with technology and the related perceptions on privacy within intimate partner relationships. The use of stalkerware or any tool to monitor someone else without their consent is a violation of privacy and a common tactic of abuse. This report demonstrates how abusive individuals use a wide range of monitoring tactics, including both stalkerware and other applications that facilitate the sharing of personal information.

Commenting on the report findings, Emma Pickering, Head of Technology-Facilitated Abuse and Economic Empowerment Team at Refuge said: “The statistics highlighted in this report are really concerning, but we are sadly not surprised. Here at Refuge, we are seeing an alarming increase in survivors reporting concerns relating to stalkerware. As these statistics reveal, the issue of stalkerware is a widespread concern.

In 2019, Kaspersky also co-founded the Coalition Against Stalkerware, an international working group against stalkerware and domestic violence that brings together private IT companies, NGOs, research institutions, and law enforcement agencies working to combat cyberstalking and help victims of online abuse.


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