On Sept. 27, a 19-year-old man was charged with hacking webcams of dozens of women and sextorting them by threatening to expose nude photos and videos he either took or forced the women to take by extorting them.
Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf was one of these women and actually went to school with the computer science student. If found guilty Jared Abrahams could be sent to federal prison for up to two years, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
He was later freed on $50,000 bail but a judge confined him to his family home, ordered him to wear a GPS monitor. His computer will be installed with monitoring software to ensure he does not use it inappropriately.
Last month, Wolf told the website of NBC’s “Today” show that earlier this year she received an anonymous email in which the sender claimed to have stolen images from the camera on her home computer.
The sender of the email threatened to go public with images captured from Wolf’s webcam unless she would provide nude pictures of herself, Eimiller said – a crime commonly known as “sextortion.”
Just before that Wolf got a Facebook alert that someone had tried to change her password to the social networking site, then noticed other passwords had been changed and that her Twitter avatar was now a half-nude picture of herself. The threatening email and changes in her social media accounts sent her directly to the authorities.
The FBI complaint alleges that Abrahams used malicious software on hacked computers in multiple nations to remotely operate webcams to capture nude photos and videos of at least seven women as they changed clothes – some of whom he knew personally and others he found by hacking Facebook pages.
When he admitted what he’d done in June, Abrahams said he had 30 to 40 “slave computers” — or other people’s electronic devices he controlled — and has had as many as 150 total slave drives.
He would then extort them into private showings threatening to post hacked photos on social media accounts. He allegedly threatened Wolf that unless she heeded his demands, he would release her nude photos “all over the Internet” and “your dream of being a model will be transformed into a pornstar.”
One teenager in Ireland responded to the demands by writing: “Please remember I’m 17. Have a heart,” according to the court record.
Abrahams allegedly responded: “I’ll tell you this right now! I do NOT have a heart. However, I do stick to my deals. Also age doesn’t mean a thing to me!!!”
The girl then allegedly stripped during a Skype session, according to the FBI affidavit. A woman in Canada also stripped, according to the document.
He also allegedly received webcam photographs from women in Southern California, Baltimore and Russia, according to the court document.
“I wasn’t sure what to do,” Cassidy Wolf said in August, shortly after her Miss Teen USA win. “So it was terrifying.” She has decided to incorporate messaging about computer security and cyber stalking in her platform.
What can you do?
Jay Foley of ID Theft Info Source who has worked on cyber crime cases with the FBI said that most people don’t realize how easy it is for someone to hack into an open Internet program. “Anyone who has a computer with a web cam, either attached or built-in, must understand that it is possible for others to hack into that software system. Cover the web cam link when not in use, meaning in many cases to cover the red light signaling the camera is on. Taping a small piece of paper over it can save you a lot of agony. Too many people leave them on and forget the world is watching.” He added there is no need to open yourself to cyber crime voyeurism.