How does stalkerware get on your phone?

Android vs iPhone

Unfortunately, stalkerware is more of a problem for Android users than iPhone users. The simple reason for this is that it’s harder to get malicious apps through Apple’s App Store review process.

However, it is still possible for stalkers to get apps that invade your privacy on to your phone, and for them to stalk you in other ways.

Here are the four main ways a stalker can put stalkerware on your phone or monitor what you’re doing.

1. The App Store and Play Store

Although the App Store and the Play Store both try to block stalkerware, you can still find it on both.

To get around the restrictions they face, stalkerware apps may be branded as “family trackers”, “employee trackers”, “find my phone” apps or even MDM (Mobile Device Management) apps. Once the apps are on your phone they may try to hide, or use names like “Wi-Fi” so they don’t draw attention to themselves.

2. Sideloading

Sideloading is a way of transferring stalkerware from a computer to your phone that completely bypasses the App Store or Play Store. Typically, a stalker will downloaded a copy of an app from a website, plug your phone into their computer and then copy the app to your phone.

This requires a bit more technical knowledge than just using an app store, but, sadly, lots of people do still do it. Doing this is easier on Android than iOS, because iPhones have to be jailbroken first.

3. Web browser install

This is possibly the easiest way for the stalkerware to get onto your phone. The stalker uses a web browser on your  device to  download the stalkerware and then install it. To do this, they will have to give the web browser permission to install apps, but this is not difficult.

This method doesn’t work on iOS.

4. iCloud

Because it’s hard to get stalkerware on to an iPhone, some stalkers target their victim’s iCloud accounts instead. 

If your stalker can find out or guess your iCloud password, they can give the details to a stalkerware website that just grabs all the text messages, emails and photos that your iPhone stores in iCloud. 

They may try to add to this information by installing a simple location tracking app (that doesn’t break any App Store rules) on to your phone.

How to remove stalkerware

Before you read the information about how to remove stalkerware, please consider your personal safety. If someone is monitoring your device, they may be aware of the research you are doing. If you are concerned that removing the stalkerware may put you at risk, please contact a support organisation.

The Coalition Against Stalkerware logo

If you’re worried that you’re being spied on or stalked via your devices, please visit the Coalition Against Stalkerware’s website, which has good advice and details of support organisations in different countries.