Have you ever left your computer on with the camera facing outward while you were doing other things? If so, the same thing that happened to Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf, could happen to you. Wolf was a victim of “sextortion” which is a nickname given to extortion of a sexual nature. A man from Wolf’s high school, whose name she knew, hacked into her computer from a remote location and snapped pictures of her in various stages of undress. He then attempted to extort additional pictures from her from her by threatening to make the images public if she didn’t comply with his demands. It seems like a far-away threat, but it could easily happen to you, too.
19 year old Jared James Abrahams was arrested and charged six months after Wolf made her initial complaint. When he was apprehended he told investigators that he had dozens of “slave computers” to carry out his crimes and it was later discovered that he has targeted over 300 women. Abrahams would snap photos of the women, totally unbeknownst to them, and then contact them demanding additional erotic pictures and actions. One girl was so frightened that she stripped in front of the cameras on Skype to appease his requests.
How could it happen to you? Hackers can break into your computer from remote locations and turn on your computer cameras without your ever knowing it. Miss Teen USA Wolf says there was no indication that her computer’s camera was turned on. “My computer light never came on, so I wasn’t aware. This person had been taking pictures of me in my room, changing clothes from putting on outfits, walking back and forth from the shower,” she said. “I received an anonymous email from an anonymous person [who] basically was extorting me and blackmailing me. I saw that he had attached nude photos of me that he had taken in my bedroom.”
Wolf says she screamed when she first saw the initial email from Abrahams and that she felt as though she were in “a horror movie” when she realized what he was demanding from her. Abrahams didn’t just target Wolf, though; he targeted 350 women by scouring Facebook and other social media networks. He had built a literal “army” of computers to carry out his scheme.
Abrahams is just one of a multitude of hackers who are out there right now, planning on targeting people for sextortion, regular money extortion and more. During Abrahams’ interaction with Wolf he told her that her dreams of becoming a model would be turned into those of a “porn star.”
He also didn’t confide his deeds to the United States. Authorities found pictures of women from various places around the globe on his network of computers. That means hackers can be located anywhere and tap into your personal computer, taking photos and then trying to extort additional images or even money.
The Miss Teen USA Sextortion case could happen to you, too, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Change your password regularly, turn off your computer when it’s not in use, and make sure your virus protection is up to date. Additionally, never share your password with anyone, avoid using unsecured public WiFi, and make sure you have strong security on your home WiFi. Abrahams is currently released and confined to his home after posting 50,000 bail.
By: Rebecca Savastio