Maria says she grew up in a good Catholic family in the American East. Every Sunday there was a dinner party at his house. Her parents had a good married life and she wanted to see the same respect and intimacy in their relationship.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦ on Unsplash

When he was over 20 years old, he found his life partner and felt like this was true love.

But the romance soon faded from their lives and it turned into a 25-year story of abuse and exploitation. First they were called by bad names. Her husband then took complete control over her finances, movements and three sons.

Her husband objected to such a job where he was in contact with other people. They were banned from using computers.

She recalls that they used to call me fat every day. In anger, he used to throw me out of the house and close the door.

Financial exploitation increased day by day. First, his salary was taken away from his cleaning job. Then her husband used her social security number to get a credit card in her name.

Six years ago, Maria broke down after hearing that he did not want to see her alive. With the help of his family and the church, he slowly made a plan to get out of the marriage.

When her mortgage was foreclosed due to non-payment, she moved in with her sister. He got his first laptop and created a Facebook account. They started dating.

But soon her ex-husband started showing her private messages to her new partner. Her ex-husband would arrive wherever she went.

Once he suddenly saw them on the motorway following him in a car. They were afraid that they were being followed and that they might have a gun. Fearing this, he contacted the police.

Although she did not file a case against her ex-husband, the stalking incidents ended and she further distanced herself from him.

In the meantime, he found out that he was being spied on by a software. She was one of the victims of 'stalkerware'.

Stalkerware is software that allows a person to spy on someone's device (such as a mobile phone).

No spy apps on your phone?

With the help of such software, one can access messages, location, photos and files of another's phone. It can even listen to conversations happening near the phone.

In 2019, Eva Gilpern founded an organization against stalkerware (Coalition Against Stalkerware) to deal with these issues.

According to reports, many alleged rape victims fear that their perpetrators can re-enter their lives with the help of technology. Keeping this in mind, Eva decided to take action against him.

She explains that the potential for exploitation increases when someone has access to your phone, for example, victims can be blackmailed into sharing their private photos.

According to Eva, the domestic violence cases she comes across always involve harassment through some form of technology and often involve stalkerware.

"It's all linked to violent cases because it's a powerful weapon of coercive control," she says.

Research shows that the rise of software like stalkerware is a major problem. According to a study by Norton Labs, between September 2020 and May 2021, the number of devices with stalkerware installed increased to 63 percent.

According to the report, this large increase could be due to the effects of the lockdown when people started staying at home for more time.

According to this report, personal items are always close to each other. This gives a criminal the opportunity to install stalkerware on their partner's device and exploit them with the help of technology."

Over the past two years, EVA has convinced antivirus companies to take such dangerous software more seriously. Thus stalkerware is added to the list of unwanted programs or malware.

In October, Google removed several ads that were selling its partners' spyware.

These apps are often marketed to parents who want to monitor their child's movements and messages. But some people start using them to spy on their partner.

One such app, 'SpyPhone', was banned by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in September for hacking into people's devices and stealing their personal data and tracking their movements and activities. Information was provided.

Despite these positive steps, some stalkerware apps and tricks to use them are still readily available online.

According to Eva, the FTC is now investigating the issue of buying and selling phone location data without users' permission. She says such technology is a powerful weapon for private detectives to use to access their target's location.

Stalkerware is designed to be difficult to detect, so even tech-savvy people fall prey to it.

One victim, Charlotte (pseudonym), is herself a senior cyber security analyst.

Some time after their engagement, they realized that strange things were happening with their phones. It would drain the battery very quickly and the phone would restart suddenly. Both these symptoms indicate that the phone is likely to have stalkerware installed.

This became clear when his partner said that he knew where they were at all times. Charlotte finally revealed the secret.

She went to a hacker event to get expert opinion. His partners were also from the same industry and he recognized some faces.

They were surprised to find that the tradition of tracking their partner is acceptable to many people.

It was in this context that she entered the field of cyber security to represent other views in the industry.

If you look around the internet, you will find many services that claim that you can hack someone's smartphone just by using their phone number. Usually a few hundred US dollars in cryptocurrency is demanded in return.

It's possible that law enforcement agencies have software with this capability, but cybersecurity experts say these websites could be fraudulent.

According to Charlotte, stalkerware apps are based on 'social engineering' that people can understand and avoid. For example, target people may be sent a text message to click on a link or if someone downloads a fake app that is shared with them.

"Don't panic" if you try to delete a suspicious app and it warns you, says Charlotte.

Sometimes they use scare techniques to prevent users from deleting the software. They use various social engineering techniques.

If all else fails, Charlotte recommends factory resetting your phone, changing passwords on all social media accounts and using 'two-factor' authentication at all times.

What would be the best way to solve this problem?

Most countries have laws of some sort against spying on someone.

For example, France introduced a new law against domestic violence in 2020 that imposes a one-year prison sentence and a 45,000-euro fine for spying and location tracking without permission. If your partner is involved in this process, the penalty will be doubled.

According to Eva, the new legislation cannot solve all the problems.

For example, according to him, Google and Apple can stop buying and selling such apps on their stores.

He added that the police should also be better trained so that they take such issues more seriously.

A major problem is that when victims approach law enforcement, they expect the law to be enforced. But the investigation starts with them and they are told that there is no problem in it.

The rise in cyber espionage is leading to new facilities for victims of domestic violence.

The Clinic to End Tech Abuse or CETA is an organization affiliated with Cornell University in the US that provides victim support and research on technology abuse.

Rosena Blaney, associated with SITA, says that sometimes they don't recommend removing stalkerware from victims' phones right away, but first provide safety training to victims with the help of staff.

Experiments have shown that violence can increase if victims are suddenly deleted from their phones.

Maria has been separated from her husband for six years now. Things are not perfect but moving in a good direction.

"Now I have a good relationship with someone else who cares and supports me so I can tell my story," she says.

She still gets distracted by her phone. They were diagnosed with PTSD or trauma. She wants to let other victims know that cyber espionage is a big thing and that she is not alone in this journey.

Don't be afraid. Help is there for you. I have improved a lot. If I can do all this at the age of 56, anyone can do it.