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An analysis of the threats of the consumer spyware industry

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Invasive surveillance software known as “spyware” is available for general consumption, allowing everyday users the ability to place a smartphone under close surveillance. The widespread availability of spyware creates clear risks that this software can be used abusively, with many indicators that it is being used frequently in the context of domestic and family violence. This presentation reports on the findings of an Australian-based study into the threats of the consumer spyware industry. The consumer spyware industry was subjected to a market analysis and legal analysis, in addition to user analysis of spyware products and a technical analysis of a select sample of spyware. Our investigation revealed a range of concerning findings about the threat of spyware, including (a) multiple spyware companies encourage and promote the use of spyware against intimate partners and children; (b) Android users carry a higher risk of being subject to spyware than iPhone users; (c) Technical analysis of spyware reveals that software developed within the consumer spyware industry often exhibits extremely poor data security practices, creating additional risks for the exposure of highly sensitive personal information and data. Ways of countering the threats of consumer spyware are considered.

Bio: Dr Diarmaid Harkin is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Deakin University. His current active research interests include the use of private security companies in the context of domestic violence, the consumer spyware industry, and the challenges of cyber-policing.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Security Seminar series.

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