Spyware is software that is surreptitiously installed on a computer with the aim of collecting personal information and monitoring the user's activities. It is often used by hackers to steal personal data like passwords and, increasingly, by parents to monitor their kids' web activities.
But Anna Stepanov, manager of the anti-spyware program at McAfee Avert Labs, said the software was also being used as a surveillance tool in cases of domestic abuse.
"With so much of our lives dependent on computers and other technologies such as cell phones, the use of spyware is ideal for abusers, who often feel the need to control all aspects of a victims existence," Stepanov wrote in a white paper released this week titled Spyware: A Morphing Campaign.
"Monitoring a victim's online, cell phone, or general computing activity is of more value than ever in controlling or hurting a victim."
Dennise Simpson, manager of the Domestic Violence Crisis Service in Canberra, said her organisation had dealt with cases of domestic spying for years and "spyware really takes the whole thing up another notch in terms of being able to really watch your partner".
She said she knew spyware was being used for stalking overseas and expected it was already happening in Australia.