Sextortion photos of the Miss Teen USA winner point to what cybercrime experts say is a disturbing trend — even people who are careful to protect themselves and don’t keep incriminating photos or information are now at risk.
FBI agents that uncovered the scheme against Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf said that the hacker who targeted her used a clever ruse to gain naked photos. The accused hacker, 19-year-old Jared James Abrahams, reportedly hacked into Wolf’s computer and gained access to her webcam. Abrahams then watched Wolf as she changed, using the camera to snap naked pictures, FBI agents say.
Abrahams reportedly took the extortion photos and anonymously emailed them to Wolf, threatening to post them to her social media unless she either sent more nude photos or agreed to a Skype session where she would do whatever he asked of her.
FBI officials say Abrahams used sextortion photos against a number of other unwilling women.
This case is much different than past hacking schemes, like one that targeted a group of celebrities including Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis. In past cases, hackers were stealing naked pictures that these celebrities had taken of themselves. But Miss Teen USA had done nothing wrong, leaving no incriminating photos of herself for others to find.
Security experts say hackers using remote-access tools (RATs) have the ability to activate microphones and webcams and can even access bank accounts or other personal information.
The method, known as “carjacking,” is growing in popularity among hackers, experts say. Within the past few years there have been some high-profile cases of hackers using sextortion photos. In 2010 FBI agents arrested Luis Mijangos for targeting 230 people, including 44 minors, in an attempt to extort them into creating sexually explicit videos and pictures.
Karen “Gary” Kazaryan was arrested for a similar scheme this year, with FBI agents saying he used sextortion photos against 350 women over a two-year span.
Mathew J. Schwartz, a cybersecurity expert with InformationWeek, said there are entire forums to help people gain access to sextortion photos.
“There’s a subculture that thrives on trading stolen webcam images,” he wrote. “Perusing a section of HackForums.net devoted to RATs produces a wealth of images labeled as ‘hot female slaves’ and ‘ugly slaves,’ reported Sydney Morning Herald. Recent posts have promised ‘150+ slaves over night!’ while one tutorial was titled, ‘How to keep the slave for as long as possible [Easy Steps].’ Comments on the post stretched to 19 pages.”
Schwartz and other experts say there is at least one low-tech method to protect against sextortion photos — covering up the webcam with a piece of tape when it’s not in use.