Consumer spyware: a serious threat with a different threat model

Posted by   Martijn Grooten on   Apr 25, 2017

We all know the risks of having a device infected with malware: an anonymous adversary far away can encrypt your files and hold them to ransom; they can steal your personal data and sell it online; or they can steal your money directly from your online financial services.

But imagine if the adversary is neither anonymous nor far away, but an abusive (ex-)partner. They may not be after your money or your identity, but they will be able to see what you are doing, who you are talking to, and where you are going.

If that sounds creepy, that's because it is. Unfortunately, it is a very real threat for very many people: as VICE Motherboard shows in an investigative series on consumer spyware (also known as 'stalkerware' or 'spouseware'), such software is widely available, relatively cheap, and worryingly popular.


flexispywebsite.png

Though many of the software's customers will have no intent on harming their target, there are cases where such malware has been linked to serious cases of domestic violence. This alone should be enough to make anyone care about this issue.

But if you are working in security, there is another reason why you should care: the threat model is very different from the one we usually consider. How well does your authentication mechanism work against an adversary who has physical access to the device and to the 2FA token, and who may know the answers to all the victim's security questions? How does your security software, which may well detect the spyware as malicious, fare against an adversary who disables it when installing the spyware?

I would recommend to anyone that they read the series at VICE Motherboard, which gives an excellent insight into how the makers of spyware operate. I would also recommend you come to VB2017, where Joseph Cox, one of the series' authors, will give a presentation on this very subject.

Register for VB2017 now to see Joseph and dozens of other security experts from around the world present on all aspects of the security threat landscape. Register before 30 June to get a 10% Early Bird discount.

VB2017-325w.jpg

twitter.png
fb.png
linkedin.png
hackernews.png
reddit.png

 

Latest posts:

VB2019 conference programme announced

VB is excited to reveal the details of an interesting and diverse programme for VB2019, the 29th Virus Bulletin International Conference, which takes place 2-4 October in London, UK.

VB2018 paper: Under the hood - the automotive challenge

Car hacking has become a hot subject in recent years, and at VB2018 in Montreal, Argus Cyber Security's Inbar Raz presented a paper that provides an introduction to the subject, looking at the complex problem, examples of car hacks, and the…

VB2018 paper and video: Android app deobfuscation using static-dynamic cooperation

Static analysis and dynamic analysis each have their shortcomings as methods for analysing potentially malicious files. Today, we publish a VB2018 paper by Check Point researchers Yoni Moses and Yaniv Mordekhay, in which they describe a method that…

VB2019 call for papers closes this weekend

The call for papers for VB2019 closes on 17 March, and while we've already received many great submissions, we still want more!

Registration open for VB2019 ─ book your ticket now!

Registration for VB2019, the 29th Virus Bulletin International Conference, is now open, with an early bird rate available until 1 July.

We have placed cookies on your device in order to improve the functionality of this site, as outlined in our cookies policy. However, you may delete and block all cookies from this site and your use of the site will be unaffected. By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to Virus Bulletin's use of data as outlined in our privacy policy.