Using Today's Technology, Sextortion Opportunities are Easier than Ever

Susan Carter

October 28, 2013 - Posted by Susan Carter to Security Insight

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Topics discussed in this forum typically address issues and difficulties facing the business world today.  For this blog, instead of focusing on business, I would like to address a topic that is not new, but because of technology, is becoming more prevalent and is something every father, mother, woman and teen needs to be aware of. I'm talking about sextortion.

According to Wikipedia, sextortion refers to a form of sexual blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favors from the victim. Social media and text messages are often the source of the sexual material and the threatened means of sharing it with others. An example of this type of extortion was exhibited in an article recently released by NBC news; where the arrest of a suspect in the Miss Teen USA Sextortion case was discussed. The suspect admitted to installing malicious software on the teen’s computer that could access her hard drive as well as turn on the webcam attached to the computer. Compromising pictures taken with the teen’s webcam by the suspect were used in an attempt to extort the teen. In this case, the teen was not even aware her picture was being taken or that she was being watched through her computer's webcam. It is important to know that accessing a person's webcam via malware is extremely easy, even by someone who is not particularly computer literate.  YouTube has a wealth of information with tutorials that include step-by-step instructions.

Webcams integrated into laptops and attached to desktops are not the only threat, however. Have you seen what televisions can do today?  New televisions are built with integrated Web cameras and microphones that are always connected.  Do not make the assumption that televisions are not hackable, THEY ARE! Some TVs include sophisticated face recognition software as well as software that listens and responds to voice commands, to 'personalize the experience' for each of the family members. One can only imagine what damage a sextortionist could inflict with this access. Especially when you take into account how many people have TVs, computers and other mobile devices in their bedrooms.

Cell phone usage presents its own set of opportunities for sextortion. A phone can be hacked and the microphone and camera can be activated through malicious malware. But of more concern, and an even easier hack, is for malicious actors to access picture stores on the phone. Take a moment to think about this. Do you have any pictures of yourself on your phone you would rather not become public? If so, you should take them off your phone as soon as possible.

Being educated and understanding the possible risks that you are taking while using these devices is a key in protecting you and your family about these kinds of attacks. Please, please do not take this issue lightly. Sextortion is a real issue and is hurting young people in our society every day.

The suggested mitigations below could help protect you or a loved one from becoming a victim of sextortion:

  • Do not take incriminating pictures of yourself or loved ones with your cell phone, or with any other camera or video camera for that matter, EVER!
  • Place a piece of tape over the webcam on your computer, only remove the tape when you need to use it in a non-sensitive room (e.g., not the bathroom or bedroom.)
  • Do not click on suspicious attachments or ads. This is a favorite and successful attack vector used to install malware that can access the webcam. Ramece Cave wrote in detail about this in a recent blog post.
  • Do not take for granted that the computer's anti-virus will stop all intrusions. Keep your signatures up to date and scan often.
  • Understand the risks you’re taking when buying into and using new TV technology.
  • Talk to your cell phone carrying children, especially your pre-teens and teenage girls. Educate them with articles about the issue and try to establish an open line of communication with them concerning sextortion and the use of their webcams and cell phone cameras. It's easy to get caught in the snowball effect of a sextortionist. Let your teen know that it's  okay to talk to someone about it if it happens to them.  
  • If you are receiving sextortion threats, do not be afraid to call law enforcement.
  • Forward this blog to your family members as a way to begin an open dialogue about sextortion.




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