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:

VB2018 paper: Internet balkanization: why are we raising borders online?

At VB2018 in Montreal, Ixia researcher Stefan Tanase presented a thought-provoking paper on the current state of the Internet and the worrying tendency towards raising borders and restricting the flow of information. Today we publish both his paper…

The malspam security products miss: banking and email phishing, Emotet and Bushaloader

The set-up of the VBSpam test lab gives us a unique insight into the kinds of emails that are more likely to bypass email filters. This week we look at the malspam that was missed: banking and email phishing, Emotet and Bushaloader.

VB2018 paper: Where have all the good hires gone?

The cybersecurity skills gap has been described as one of the biggest challenges facing IT leaders today. At VB2018 in Montreal, ESET's Lysa Myers outlined some of the things the industry can do to help address the problem. Today we publish Lysa's…

Preview: Nullcon 2019

We look forward the Nullcon 2019 conference in Goa, India, at which VB Editor Martijn Grooten will give a talk on the state of malware.

From Amazon to Emotet: a look at those phishing and malware emails that bypassed email security products

We see a lot of spam in the VBSpam test lab, and we also see how well such emails are being blocked by email security products. Recently some of the emails that bypassed security products included a broken Amazon phishing campaign, a large fake UPS…

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.