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Google Yanks Seven Stalkerware applications discovered by security researchers from the Play Store

A man walking past a building at Google's Mountain View Headquarters in California in 2015
Photo: Jeff Chui AP)

Google has downloaded several apps from its Play Store after Avast's cyber security company identified them as "most likely designed by a Russian developer to allow people to pursue employees, romantic partners or children," CNET said in a statement. Wednesday.

-List of Employees Check the Online Phone Spy Free, Spy Kids Tracker, Phone Cell Tracker, Mobile Tracker, Spy Tracker, SMS Tracker, and Spy staff – identified by Avast have been able to collect information including location, contacts , call logs, and text message content. According to BleepingComputer, they are also capable of intercepting messages sent to WhatsApp and Viber encrypted chat services if the target device is rooted. Avast writes that the seven applications are collectively installed over 130,000 times and includes instructions on how to "uninstall something noticeable to the phone owner", making them ideal for persecution. All that will be required will be access to the device in question.

One of the applications, the Office Spy Officer, is advertised as allowing employers to track the movements and activities of their staff during their working hours, according to Avast:

Finding an experienced employee is only half a task. The biggest challenge is to keep it faithful to the company and its mission. Many employees can simply skip work during office hours. People usually spy on children, but employees also need strict control.

The Spy Tracker application is advertised as allowing parents to keep complete sections about the child's activities, noting "It's better to talk to kids, but if you're not a good listener …"

According to CNET, Google has removed four of Tuesday's applications, and the other three on Wednesday after they were warned by Avast and found they had violated its commercial spyware policy. For example, cached versions of the Play Store page for Spy Tracker have had several reviews alleged to be from people who installed it on their spouse's phones without their consent. Another cached SMS Tracker page contains a review in which the user claims that the developer is a "pro-ethical hacker" before mentioning the app that helped him "trace a remote sms to my husband."

A screenshot of the remote targeting interface. "These apps are highly unethical and problematic for people's personal data and should not be in the Play Store, as they encourage criminal behavior and can be abused by employers, stalkers or violent partners to spy on their victims, "Avast Chief of Intelligence and Security of Mobile Threat Nicholas Hrisaidos said in a CNET statement. "Some of these apps are available as parental control applications, but their descriptions draw a different picture, telling users that their apps allow them to track fraudsters."

As Engadget noted, the applications were just "slightly popular". "They are part of a pretty obvious plug-in for Avast's security tools, but a recent article in the MIT Technology Review underscores stalkerware's all-encompassing. Kapersky's chief researcher David Em told the magazine that his company had identified and removed 58,000 stalkerware stories in 2018, while abusive experts argue that abusive abuse often involves technology tracking:

Abuse with partners is not limited to stalkerware. The Homes Force Domestic Charity estimates that about 95% of cases include some form of technology-based violence, whether through parental control, employee tracking, or even just obsessive tracking of partner's location through Google Maps or Find My Friends, Changing the World, and Abusers' Methods.

In 2017, the motherboard reported that SecureDrop leakages provided by two hackers showed two spyware companies, Retina-X and FlexiSpy, which have about 130,000 users.

This problem is a niche, but that's not true, "said Rahul Chatterji, a computer science researcher, Cornell, co-author of a recent study identifying hundreds of applications that could be used to monitor an intimate partner. "One in three women and one in six men [who have experienced an abusive relationship]. Only millions and millions of people in the United States. We can not ignore it anymore. "

This study found that Apple has iOS restrictions (both for the functionality that allows App Store apps and how users can easily transfer apps from external official channels) remote monitoring is harder than on devices using Google's mobile Android operating system. The functionality varies from "basic location tracking to text collection and even secret video recording," according to the New York Times, although iOS access to data other than location requires knowledge of the username and password of the target. Google spokesman told the newspaper that the company would "further restrict the promotion and distribution" of apps that could be used to pursue a response.

While the digital surveillance of a person without their consent may violate the laws against stalking, tapping, or hacking, the Times wrote, there were several cases where developers were held responsible. The document noted one case in 2014, when the Justice Department ordered the company behind an application called StealthGenie under laws prohibiting the advertising or sale of "hidden devices", after which some developers moved their servers abroad or abolished the marketing a language that explicitly states that the application could be

In addition to Avast and Kapersky, security companies Symantec, Malwarebytes and Lookout have said they will step up their efforts to identify stalkerware, according to CNET.

[Avast via CNET]

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