Skip to content

What is Stalkerware? How to Protect Yourself from Getting Pawned by Online Prowlers


Netflix’s You has changed the face of stalkers. In it, former Gossip Girl star Penn Badgely plays Joe Goldberg, a lovable rom-com hero who just happens to also be a deranged serial-killing stalker. There are more Joe Goldbergs out there than you might think and they are taking advantage of technological advancements to take their stalking to the next level. 

In the popular Netflix series, Joe “lucks” into finding his prey’s phone and stalking her through her social media. However, there are programs publicly available that enable stalkers to track their victims using their devices. A simple program or app could be added to your device that completely violates your privacy. 

It’s called stalkerware.

Stalkerware is a form of malware or tech that lets someone sneak a peek at what’s on your phone without your knowledge. These programs can spy on your private messages, look at your camera roll, or track your location via GPS. 

Anyone from paranoid parents to abusive exes can track you and steal your data without detection. Stalkerware can be uploaded to your device and appear innocuous like a random app. 

“Software that allows you to do this without notifying the user, that deliberately circumvents consent, that hides from the person who is using it so that they do not know that they are being watched is in and of itself abusive,” said Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Galperin appeared on the Easy Prey podcast to offer insight into the growing issue of stalkerware.

How does Stalkerware work? 

Imagine if someone you trusted installed an app or program onto your device that tracked everything. It tracks what you do on your device and can even track your location. This can be keystrokes, messages you send and receive; it can even record your voice and turn on your camera. Whether marketed as apps to keep an eye on your kids, monitor worker efficiency or track your device’s location, these apps are being used by stalkers.

More Ways You Can be Stalked Online 

Sadly, stakerware is not the only way for someone to track you. Bluetooth devices like Tiles and AirTags can also be repurposed to track someone without their knowledge. Galperin shares, “It is impossible to build a tool that will track a thief that will not also be excellent for tracking by an abuser because they’re both predicated on the notion that you should be able to track somebody’s location when they’re holding an item and should not know about it.”

If someone has your Apple ID they can use apps to look at your backups and track your information. Some programs can scrape your Apple ID for your backup once a day. With this information, your would-be stalker can keep an eye on everything you’ve done on your device.  

The Perils of Stalkerware

Not only is stalkerware a violation of privacy, it can be a tool of abusers to not just stalk but track, torment, and extort their victims. In the cases of domestic violence, partners can be seeking an escape from their tormentors only to find their devices are sharing all of their vital information. 

These apps can easily be added to your device if someone knows your password. In cases of domestic violence, abusers can often know the login information of their prey. The same can be true for parents and employers. Imagine someone using what trusted information they have like a login or password to completely obliterate your privacy. 

One of the biggest challenges persists in domestic violence cases. How can you enforce the law in these situations? Spying on someone’s phone can put an obscene amount of power in an already abusive person’s hands. There are limitations to what police can do to track this information and get proper forensic evidence to prosecute the perpetrators.  

The Coalition Against Stalkerware was created to help address this problem. It’s committed to battling the growing spread of stalkerware while also attacking the companies that make stalkerware. Google Play recently booted stalkerware apps from the Play store and the Federal Trade Commission is now hip to the perils of stalkerware. 

Stalking is an international issue and this new technological development can make it more challenging. According to the Stalking Prevention Awareness & Resource Center (SPARC), stalking impacts an estimated 6-7.5 million Americans and one-in-four victims report being stalked through some form of technology.

Can antivirus software get rid of stalkerware? 

Some stalkerware can be neutralized by rebooting your device. Antivirus programs on the highest setting may be able to detect stalkerware. If need be, you can also try rebooting your device to factory settings to remove any software that was surreptitiously added. 

Often you may just need to remove any suspicious apps and reset all of your passwords. This can help you get closer to locating the problematic app. Resetting all of your passwords including any backups can help give you some privacy back. Consider using a password manager and installing two-factor authentication to be sure to catch anyone trying to access your device or accounts. 

If you find Stalkeware consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that this doesn’t happen to someone else. Stalkerware is a growing problem and can be used to not just track and stalk but to psychologically abuse another human being. Be sure to also look to the Coalition Against Stalkerware for more resources to help protect yourself. 

Stalkerware is not just an innovation of prowling but also of abuse. It can be an escalation of domestic violence or be a form of control that is actively snuffing out someone’s right to privacy. Like with many issues in cybersecurity, this issue can escalate faster than your ability to protect yourself. But luckily, people are becoming more aware and with the proper precautions, you can help stop stalkerware. 

Related Articles

  • All
  • Easy Prey Podcast
  • General Topics
  • Home Computing
  • IP Addresses
  • Networking
  • Online Privacy
  • Online Safety
Stuart Madnick has been in cybersecurity since 1974 and knows a lot about the costs of cyberattacks.

The Cost of Cyberattacks: Minimizing Risk, Minimizing Damage

Most of us view the internet as a useful and benign tool. But in many ways, it’s…

[Read More]

How to Keep Your YouTube from getting Demonetized

You finally did it–you hit all of the markers for acceptance in the YouTube Partner program, and…

[Read More]

How to Stay Out of Facebook Jail

Many of us have been there before–behind the proverbial bars of social media punishment. We’re left shocked…

[Read More]
Lisa Plaggemier's job is to promote cyber security awareness.

Cyber Security Awareness for Everyone

You can do anything on the internet – shop, bank, meet your future spouse, become famous, and…

[Read More]

Cyberbullying Prevention: What Parents Can Do

It’s very easy for anyone to create a fake online profile and say or do mean things…

[Read More]
Lost iPhone

Lost iPhone? If It’s Missing, Look Up to the Cloud for Help.

Here's an important piece of advice: You need to learn what Find My and can do...

[Read More]