Beware: Sextortion attacks are on the rise

Social media sites have recently stepped up to help combat revenge porn–the posting of nude or lewd photos without the subject’s permission. That’s not the only threat out there, though, when it comes to the potential exposure of explicit photos you’ve taken–especially if you’re not careful about who you’re sharing them with online. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Organized cybercrime groups are using nude photos and explicit videos to blackmail victims in “sextortion” attacks.[/inlinetweet]

I wrote about a report from Trend Micro highlighting a dramatic rise in sextortion across Asia, and concerning trends that indicate it’s likely to spread around the world:

You don’t have to be a celebrity to get nailed by a nude photo. According to a report by Trend Micro, sextortion—the use of compromising photos or videos to extract money from victims—is on the rise.

The concept isn’t entirely new. Anthony Stancl is currently serving a 15-year prison term for posing as a female on Facebook to lure male students from his high school into sharing sexually compromising photos. He then blackmailed his victims with the threat of making the photos public to force them to perform sexual acts with him.

What sets this campaign of sextortion apart is that it has now been adopted by organized cybercrime organizations and is being used systematically to wreak havoc on lonely, desperate victims online.

According to the Trend Micro report, crime rings are setting up fake Facebook accounts and posing as flirtatious, available women. They invite victims to join a Skype video-chat for cybersex and record the session without the victim’s knowledge. The video is then used to blackmail the victim into paying a ransom—typically about $1,000—or risk having the explicit content made public on YouTube.

In some cases the perpetrators pretend there are connection issues and direct the victim to download an app to help troubleshoot the problem. The app is actually malware that gives the attackers access to the victim’s PC and enables them to collect information about their contacts. The blackmail then focuses on sending the lewd photos or videos to all of the victim’s contacts instead of or in addition to posting it online.

The ring of sextortion scams tracked by Trend Micro is focused in Asia, but there’s no reason to believe it won’t eventually spread to other regions of the world. Trend Micro claims the sextortion schemes it discovered involve cybercriminals from various nations and cultures working together. Trend Micro notes that attackers are not only evolving technically—developing better tools and processes—but also improving social engineering tactics. The result is attacks that are sophisticated and prey on victims who are most vulnerable.

You can read the full post on PCWorld: The rise of sextortion: Nude selfies are fun until someone gets blackmailed.

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