Emily went on a business trip to Chicago, and her boyfriend was left at home in New York. Emily does not want him to be bored and sends him several of her photos without clothes. She sent these photos only to her boyfriend, so she was very surprised when she received such a message:
”Hey! I’ve got several sensitive photos of yours. They can really please your parents, brother, and Facebook friends. Please pay me $1000 and no one will know anything about them.”
Emily’s photos were stolen by hackers, and they contacted her via social networks. Intimate photos can be stolen from iCloud, Google Photos, email correspondence, instant messengers, social networks. Your photos can also be intercepted through the Wi-Fi hotspots, and with the help of viruses, the infect your PCs. Crooks can get them when stealing laptops and flash drives.
Most cybercrooks do not choose their victims or prey on specific people. They monitor unprotected connections and collect huge packs of logins, passwords, and files, and only then look at how to cash in on this data.
Hackers understand that it is most profitable to blackmail the rich and famous. Celebrities may spend thousands to keep compromising pictures in secret (except when the leak was not planned in advance for the PR sake.)
Kim Kardashian was not so popular until 2007 when her homemade adult shots did not hit the Internet. Now she is a big star of American television. Her mother, Kris Jenner, is accused of advising her daughter to record and publish the video.
Hackers do not always require a ransom for intimate photos. The photo can appear on an anonymous forum or in a thematic social media group. Sometimes the pictures get published just for fun, and nothing can be done.
If a hacker has an intention to blackmail a person, he will spend time and explore the victim’s social profiles looking for friends and relatives, finding who is the victim’s partner, where does the victim work, etc. So, attackers will determine how painful it will be for the victim if photos go public and how much can be demanded for keeping silence.
If there are no celebrities associated with stolen sensitive documents, anonymous extortionists can send thousands of spam messages to different girls per day with the requirement to pay. If at least one of them pays, the swindler succeeded. And sometimes no nude pictures required, scammers are just bluffing.
What if I get blackmailed?
If you are being blackmailed, do not even think about transferring money to fraudsters. This will only give them more reasons to continue to blackmail you and there is no guarantee that they will not publish your photos.
You should understand that if you pay the extortioner even three times, nothing will prevent him from sending photos to your friends and colleagues or attach to an archive that will be spread on dark web forums. It is better to be naked with money than naked without money.
Online extortion is illegal, but it is unlikely you can sue an anonymous crook. Most likely, he operates from behind TOR, VPNs or other anonymizers. It is almost impossible to trace crooks’ IPs.
But if you are being blackmailed by a former boyfriend or acquaintance, you can easily scare him with a court trial. Take screenshots of messages with threats and contact the lawyer and the police.
Do not in any way show the blackmailer that he frightened you, upset or enraged you. It will only amuse him — take care of your nerves.
If you are sure that the intentions of the blackmailer are serious, look at the situation with humor and warn your friends and relatives in advance that they may soon see you without clothes. Most likely they will sympathize with you, and for a couple of days, you will become the Internet star.
What can I do to prevent this from happening again?
· Monitor the security of all your online accounts: email, social networks, and instant messengers. Any successful hacking attempt will cause problems to you and your loved ones. This can be avoided by using complex passwords, two-factor authentication and password managers. And do not click on suspicious links and attachments.
· Do not log into email and social networks from other people’s devices. Do not rely on their honesty and decency. Assume that any device has a keylogger installed that records each typed letter. Remember that passwords often remain in the browser cache and can be easily extracted from there.
· Use public Wi-Fi with caution. If a router in a cafe or hotel is monitored by a person with bad intentions, any information that is transmitted through this hotspot will be intercepted — including personal correspondence and intimate photos.
· It is better to use the best VPN services when connecting to public networks. VPN will create a secure “tunnel” between you and the Internet, and even being connected to an unprotected Wi-Fi network, you will not worry about the security of the data, it will be encrypted.
· Use self-destroying chats. These are secret chat rooms with a self-destruction timer, Telegram and Snapchat offer such chats. In such secret chat rooms, you can even see when the other person makes a screenshot, so it is impossible to secretly steal your pics.
· Encrypt nude photos and home videos in phone and laptop memory. If the device itself gets stolen, criminals will try to retrieve your data from it. Do not let the crooks (in addition to stealing) engage in blackmail. iPhone encrypts the data itself if a password is set on the device. On MacBook, you can enable the FileVault function in the settings. The BitLocker encryption works well for Windows users.
· Make sure that your partners\contacts also take care of the security of their correspondence. If you are protected, and your partner is not, your photos are in danger.