Anti-phishing company Area 1 says that email “sextortionists” have collected $1 million in Bitcoins (about $593 USD per victim) by convincing targets that their webcams and porn-search habits have been compromised, Fortune reports.
But your webcam and any porn consumption likely haven’t been breached, says Area 1 boss Oren Falkowitz, and hackers are bluffing.
But they can make a convincing show of it.
Falkowitz told Fortune about an evening he received a desperate call from a client whose Silicon Valley associate was just about to take his company public.
The client’s friend had just received an email telling him to cough up Bitcoin or have prurient habits exposed.
“They said they have videos of him looking at porn through his webcam,” said Falkowitz, who advised his client that the scheme was probably a ruse.
“It’s fake,” Flakowitz told the client. “Tell him to delete [the email] and go to sleep.”
Key to pulling off an extortion scam is the hacker presenting an authentic piece of personal information, such as an old email password, to the victim.
The fact is that the sextortion hacker likely bought that password from another hacker selling stolen data on the Dark Net.
Data stolen in massive data breaches such as those executed against Target and Yahoo, say, can be sold repeatedly to other enterprising hackers wielding it for all kinds of nefarious purposes.
It is important to remember that just because a hacker has your old Hotmail address or your MySpace password for these, that does not mean they are professional enough to hijack your webcam or spy on your keystrokes.
Sextortion scams are a numbers game: spray enough threats until a guilty one panics and pays.
Sextortion hackers are loading emails with invisible text from Shakespeare and Jane Austen. This tricks spam filters into detecting a high amount of “good language” invisibly couching the threats.
Individuals concerned about online privacy should educate themselves about online hygiene and best practices.
Area 1 also suggests investing in an extra layer of anti-spam protection software.
As well, a sticker that slides over your webcam when you’re not chatting is also a good bet.