Sexual Extortion on the Internet: Blackshades

It’s one of the biggest threats that no one thinks they are vulnerable to until it happens to them: online exploitation.

Nasty people are peeking into our very homes and capturing images we would rather not have floating around the Internet.  Sound crazy and unlikely?

Tell that to Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf who discovered in 2013 that someone had captured images of her while she thought she was in the privacy of her own bedroom—through the camera on her laptop computer. Then, the stranger emailed her threatening to release the images online unless she sent salacious photographs of herself and/or “performed” for him online via Skype.  After an extensive investigation, it turns out that the blackmailer was someone she knew: 19-year old Jared James Abrahams, a computer science student who was Cassidy’s former high school classmate.

Everyone thinks that to protect yourself online you need to have the skills of a hacker and high-tech cyber knowledge.  But you don’t have to be a technology wizard to protect yourself or your family.  Here is one significant thing you can do to prevent unknown assailants from capturing photographs or videos of you or your loved ones without your knowledge.  Wait for it.  Wait for it … Scotch tape.  All you have to do is to “go all MacGyver” by placing a small piece of scotch tape over the camera.  Simply remove the scotch tape each time you want to use the video feature on Skype, etc. and replace when finished.  Problem solved.  Oh, and I should mention that you need to have a quick conversation in which you explain this and then watch while your teenager/wife/sister does the same.  We love low-tech methods for protecting the family and this is one you can implement immediately–  Because you’re just that smart and just that cool (wink)!

Technical Note for Non-Technical People:  This particular hacking strategy is enabled by Blackshades remote access malware which allows someone to hack into your computer and access documents, record keystrokes, and activate the webcam (yikes!!!!). The software is activated when someone clicks on a malicious link, often from social networking sites.  Once you click on the attachment or image, the software is downloaded and you no longer have privacy—everything in your computer is now at someone else’s fingertips.  It is so easy to fall into this trap it’s ridiculous.  Since the software is known, your anti-virus software should prevent this unfortunate event from happening to you, so make sure your anti-virus software is updated and current.

According to the FBI, more than a half-million computers in over 100 countries were infected by this software which was being sold by its two creators for only $40 a pop. Those guys are now sitting in prison: one is a 24-year-old Swedish man who was arrested in Moldova and is currently facing extradition to the United States.  The other is 23-year-old Michael Hogue of Arizona, who pleaded guilty after his arrest in June 2012. As of May 19, forty FBI field offices had conducted approximately 100 interviews, executed more than 100 e-mail and physical search warrants, and seized more than 1,900 domains used by Blackshades users to control victims’ computers.  In the global investigation that involved 19 different countries, over 90 arrests have been made so far in this massive take-down of cyber-criminals.  Now that’s a well-coordinated operation.

About Michele Rigby Assad

After obtaining a masters degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown University, Michele applied—along with hundreds of others from the university--to work for the CIA. After a long and grueling hiring process and a year of intensive training, she became an intelligence officer for the National Clandestine Service, the covert (operational) arm of the Agency. Serving for a decade as a counterterrorism officer, Michele worked in all of the awful places you hope you’ll never visit, including Iraq during the height of the war. To date, Michele has traveled to 45 countries, lived in six of those, and has a lot of crazy stories to tell about life overseas. While working for the CIA, Michele initially decried the traits that made her different from senior male officers, but later realized that these traits were what made her a great intelligence officer (empathy, intuition, strong interpersonal skills). Now she’s on a mission to show women that they have the elements to be a Femme Fatale—the incredibly intelligent and operationally astute woman that gets stuff done. After years of service to her country, Michele has left the undercover life behind and now works as an international management consultant focused on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. She has a more “normal” life now and a lot more time to do the things she loves: writing, cooking, traveling for pleasure, walking on the beach—and most of all, inspiring others!

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