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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection | post

A Sordid Tale of Hacking, Extortion and Humiliation

by Neal O'Farrell on

If you're still not convinced that it really is a bad idea to post suggestive images or videos of yourself on Facebook or any other online site, or even just email them to friends, maybe this tangled tale will help change your mind.

A hacker was recently arrested in California after the FBI, California Highway Patrol and many other agencies concluded their investigation into a very strange case that included hacking, impersonation, extortion, and even child pornography.

The accused hacker started his attack by simply trawling Facebook pages looking for women he could target. Once he had identified his targets, and engaged them in online conversation, he approached their email service providers, pretending to be his victims, and guessing the answers to the security questions was able to access their email accounts, change their passwords and lock out the victims from their own accounts.

Now he had complete access to all their email messages and everything the victims had ever sent or received. And apparently in many cases that included nude or semi nude photographs and videos the victims had previously exchanged with friends.

Armed with this treasure trove of potentially embarrassing information, the hacker began the process of threatening and humiliating his victims in complying with his sordid demands. Because he had access to their email accounts, the hacker sent the images to everyone in the victim's email address book and threatened to post the images more widely - unless the victims agreed to send him even more explicit images of themselves.

A number of victims are believed to have complied with his demands, and in some cases the hacker even posted the stolen images on public web sites, including Facebook. When he was arrested, investigators found more than 3,000 email profiles on his computer, suggesting that the hacker was planning a very large and long campaign of extortion. By the time of his arrest he had already targeted an estimated 170 victims. Investigators also discovered more than 1,000 images and 50 child pornography videos on his computer.

This case is by no means unique and should be a clear reminder that if you ever take very personal photographs or videos of yourself, don't assume that it's ever safe to post them on Facebook (or anywhere else online) or send them by email.

It's also a reminder of just how easy it can be for a complete stranger to guess the answer to your secret questions, take over your email account, and wreak havoc on your life.

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