I have been warning you about sextortion scams for six years, but it is important to remind you again because according to the FBI, there has been a dramatic increase in this scam. The sextortion scam begins with an email in which you are told that your computer and web cam have been hacked and that the scammers have video of you watching porn online. In the email, the scammer threatens to send the videos to people on his contact list unless you pay a ransom in Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency. Recent figures from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) indicate that the instances of this scam dramatically increased 242% over the previous year. The truth is that while it is possible to hack into someone’s webcam, these sextortion emails are being sent out as mass mailings without the videos they claim to have. The scammers’ hope is that some people will be fearful enough to send the ransom. In the Scam of the day for January 27, 2019 I wrote about how the scam had evolved whereby, in order to appear as a more legitimate threat, the scammers sometimes include in the email a password the targeted victim had used. Again, however, this email extortion threat is baseless. The passwords that have been included in some versions of this email scam are indeed ones that the targeted extortion victims have used, however, they were obtained by the scammer from one of the many data breaches in which passwords were stolen.
This scam also illustrates the vulnerabilities of webcams to being hacked. There have been a number of scams about which I have reported in which people’s webcams have been hacked and compromising videos taken. Often when people install webcams, they use default logins and passwords. These default passwords are easy to find online. Generally, when you hook up anything wireless to your router, it comes with a password and login so it is critical that whenever you install any of these Internet of Things devices, you change the password and login to protect yourself, which leads us to my second concern – routers. A study by security company Avast found that about 80% of Americans do not properly secure their routers, leaving themselves vulnerable to being hacked. Many people still use either default passwords or easily guessed passwords, such as “password” for their routers.
As we connect to the Internet through more and more devices that are a part of the Internet of Things, it becomes increasingly important to be cognizant of maintaining proper security in all devices including, of course, routers and webcams. Laziness can have dire consequences. Never use default logins and passwords. As soon as you install any device that accesses the Internet, make sure that you protect yourself with secure logins and passwords. It is not difficult to hack into the webcam of a computer from afar. The same types of tricks used to get people to unwittingly download keystroke logging malware that enables the hacker to gather all of the personal information from your computer to be used to make you a victim of identity theft can be used to get you to download the malware that enables the hacker to take control of your webcam. Never click on links in emails or download attachments unless you are absolutely positive they are legitimate. They may be riddled with malware. Also, install and maintain anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer and other electronic devices. For external webcams that are not a built-in component of your computer, a red light will signal that the camera is operating. Be aware of this. It is a good idea to merely disconnect the external webcam when you are not using it or merely take a post-it and cover the webcam’s lens whenever you are not using it, which is what I do. A photograph taken in 2015 shows Pope Francis using his iPad with a sticker over the built in web camera. This simple technique is also used by Mark Zuckerberg, former FBI Director James Comey and me. It is a simple and easy solution. For built in webcams, they too will generally have a blue light to indicate that it is operating, however, again, it is a good idea to merely cover the lens when you are not using it.
Finally, this scam provides a good example as to why you should have a unique password for all of your accounts.
As for the sextortion emails, it could have been expected that if a hacker actually did have the videos he claimed, he would include a screenshot in the sextortion email or at least an indication of the pornographic website that they accuse you of viewing. The scammers do not include such a screenshot or website name because they do not have the incriminating videos that they claim.
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