The Spyware Used in Intimate Partner Violence

Rahul Chatterjee, Periwinkle Doerfler, Hadas Orgad, Sam Havron, Jackeline Palmer, Diana Freed, Karen Levy, Nicola Dell, Damon McCoy, Thomas Ristenpart

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    Survivors of intimate partner violence increasingly report that abusers install spyware on devices to track their location, monitor communications, and cause emotional and physical harm. To date there has been only cursory investigation into the spyware used in such intimate partner surveillance (IPS). We provide the first in-depth study of the IPS spyware ecosystem. We design, implement, and evaluate a measurement pipeline that combines web and app store crawling with machine learning to find and label apps that are potentially dangerous in IPS contexts. Ultimately we identify several hundred such IPS-relevant apps. While we find dozens of overt spyware tools, the majority are 'dual-use' apps - they have a legitimate purpose (e.g., child safety or anti-theft), but are easily and effectively repurposed for spying on a partner. We document that a wealth of online resources are available to educate abusers about exploiting apps for IPS. We also show how some dual-use app developers are encouraging their use in IPS via advertisements, blogs, and customer support services. We analyze existing anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, which universally fail to identify dual-use apps as a threat.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationProceedings - 2018 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2018
    PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Electronic)9781538643525
    StatePublished - Jul 23 2018
    Event39th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2018 - San Francisco, United States
    Duration: May 21 2018May 23 2018

    Publication series

    NameProceedings - IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy
    ISSN (Print)1081-6011


    Other39th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2018
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CitySan Francisco


    • Android Spyware
    • Domestic Violence
    • Dual use Apps
    • Intimate Partner Violence
    • Play Store Crawling
    • Query Snowballing
    • Spyware

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
    • Software
    • Computer Networks and Communications


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