This has not been a good week for perverts on the Internet.
First one gets arrested for hacking into e-mail and Facebook accounts of his female victims and sending their compromising pictures to their contacts and friends, and now another one gets nabbed for infecting his victims’ computers with malware that allowed him to listen and watch them in the privacy of their own home.
And, as it happens, this one is also a California resident, and his arrest is the result of a 2-year long investigation by the FBI that uncovered more than 200 victims – some of whom were still adolescent girls.
The alleged criminal started by infecting one computer and installing malware on it that allowed him to search through the computer’s hard disk, record keystrokes the victim was entering, and control the computer webcam and microphone. This way, he could monitor what the victim was saying and doing in their own home, and gain access to all of her online services by stealing the usernames and passwords.
He then used the victim’s compromised social network account to send out messages to her friends with a link that would supposedly take them to see a scary video, but was in fact a link to the same malware he used to compromise the first victim’s computer. And so the vicious circle went.
But, he made a mistake that allowed the feds to catch him.
“If he hadn’t attempted to contact the victims, he could have done this forever and gone undetected – the victims would never have known he was listening and watching,” said Special Agent Tanith Rogers, one of the investigators. “That is one of the most disturbing things about this case.”
Why did he contact the victims? Because watching and listening wasn’t enough, so he attached a sexually explicit picture of one of the victims in an e-mail to her, demanding of her to send him an equally explicit video. If she failed to comply – he said – he would tell her parents about the picture.
“What’s so frightening about this case was how easily the victims’ computers were compromised,” said Special Agent Jeff Kirkpatrick, one of investigators who worked the case. “And this guy was no computer genius. Anybody could do what he did just by watching an online video and following the directions.”
The FBI also believes that there could be still some undiscovered victims, so they posted a list of screen names and e-mail addresses he used in hope that they will come forward with more information.
“Most people are too trusting when it comes to their computers,” Agent Kirkpatrick said. “If your computer has been compromised and you are receiving extortion threats, don’t be afraid to talk to your parents or to call law enforcement.