Sextortion ’ blackmail attacks on the rise, Police warn

Lata Jain

Sextortion’ attacks, where cyber criminals blackmail victims with the threat of exposing explicit photographs or messages are becoming increasingly common in this age of technology.

The story of an engineering student who collected their personal pictures of nearly 200 girls befriending them online with several fake identities and face book accounts and blackmailing them of dire consequences, exhorting money from the girls is shocking.

This shocking incident and an eye-opener to parents of teen aged children happened in Cyberabad. Abdul Majid is a third year engineering student and created six facebook accounts with fictitious names. After he obtained naked pictures from the victims he would threaten to post the images on the internet unless they would provide additional photos and videos and sometimes cash.

Emails, contact names, personal files and intimate selfies. In this age of smart phones and social networking, how vulnerable our private lives are. In this age of smart phones and incessant social networking, where the lines between public and personal lives are blurred, we are unequivocally vulnerable. Ironically, at the same time, we have never been more careless with personal information. Stalkers, enemies, and thieves can abuse personal data to stalk blackmail and steal people’s identities.”

It is no secret that technology has become a vital part of our work life and as we get more comfortable with it, we allow it to overrun our personal lives too. We share and store information from our credit card number to social website passwords never thinking about the fact that what if the information shared is abused. In a world where governments are putting surveillance over people and organizations and where internet has become a hub of international corporate giants with their own set of privacy safeguards and standards, the subject of privacy becomes dubious in the mind of a citizen because you never know that whether you are being watched?

It is impossible to estimate the number of voyeuristic websites operated and propagated today. The visuals congenial to the ogling eyes are often copied and replicated across these multiple porn sites. So even if you are able to get one website to take down certain images that are defamatory in nature, there is a high possibility that other websites have already copied and posted them. Also the present colossal status of social media makes it virtually impossible for the authorities to wipe off the digital prints. The impact of this is more than shame and shock for the victim. The immediate effect is the social stigmatization and blame arising questions on their character.

Many of us sell our phones without properly formatting and erasing the entire data, pictures in the phone. Especially with androids where factory reset simply deletes the top layer,” says Meher Sinha a programmer who also works on developing android, IOS and web applications for the future. She compares it to deleting the index of a book — so pointers are removed, but chapters remain. “It’s like sticking a clean paper over it,” says Meher adding “so information never gets erased. It just gets overwritten.”

Sextortion is on the rise. Cyber Police says that criminals may try to befriend victims and trick them into sharing pictures, or may use malware to target victims’ webcams and take pictures themselves.

“There are two types of behaviors that are used in this crime,” “Trust-based tactics where the criminals take advantage of the relative anonymity of the Internet to trick victims into trusting them and revealing very personal details or sending revealing images. The criminals then use these as leverage to force their victims into sending more compromising pictures.” Criminals also target victims with malware designed specifically for this form of attack says police. Predatory scammers also target victims via dating sites – where the scammer trades pictures with a victim, then threatens them with exposure. Even explicit messages can leave daters open to this form of attack.

Dating scams are one of the fastest-growing areas of fraud online.

Now, more than ever before, our experience of cyberspace is subsumed by images and videos. ‘Twitpic or it didn’t happen’ isn’t just a catchy slogan; it’s become a way for us to mediate the world.

Finally, the rules about sharing images of your body on the internet, I discover, aren’t too different from those in the offline world. Share, but only with someone you trust completely. Trust is fragile. Exercise caution, often to the point of paranoia.

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