The Internet's Most Covert Predator
Luis Mijangos stood in front of a Los Angeles jury and was sentenced to six years in prison. His crime? He had been spying on over 200 women through their webcams, capturing their most intimate moments without anyone ever knowing about it.
But Mijangos was certainly not the first to commit this exploitative crime. The act of hacking into a computer's camera has become commonplace among hackers on the Internet, making the web a dangerous place for not only women, but men and children as well.
Initiating The Hack
It only takes something small to set the hacking into motion. For Mijangos, it was a piece of software disguised under a popular song sent to the women by email. Women of multiple age groups clicked on the song and as they listened, Mijangos hacked into their computer and its camera. From then on, he was able to see their every move, so long as the computer was open.
Once the hacker has successfully hacked and received video or photos from a woman's computer, the woman is dubbed a "bot" or a "slave" to the community, being open to exploitation of any kind.
Most hacking crimes are initiated once infecting their "slaves" using a remote administration tool (RAT), and help from a thriving community of hackers. This community can be easily found on sites such asHackForums.net, where threads vary from the pragmatic sharing of tutorials and tips on how to set up RAT to the downright disturbing calls for "slave trading" and posting images of "UGLY SLAVES." To get an idea of the expansiveness of this community, the "UGLY SLAVES" thread has over 140 posts existing under it, with screenshots of victims, many in the middle of downloading offensive pornography.
Through this forum and others like it, experienced ratters post paid services to set up RAT for you, with one even advertising, "first five customers will get 10 free slaves." This is not an isolated example. The appearance of no-fuss RAT installations and acquisition of free slaves is on the rise, as one Hack Forum member commented on a post offering this type of service, "really, nice more and more of these threads are coming up every day." What once was a complicated process that required the expertise of a highly skilled hacker is now accessible to anyone and everyone with a little spending change. In fact, Hack Forums has a posting section dedicated strictly to RATs, where nearly 3,000 threads are accessible to read.
But what exactly is done once hackers have gained access? It depends on the audience. Some tap in to access account credentials, but many do it for mere entertainment. Through RAT programs like DarkComet, a "Fun Manager" is included that performs tasks for the sole purpose of messing with a hacked victim. Functions such as hiding the Start Button and opening and closing the CD tray are a few of the tricks ratters can use to terrorize their slaves.
It does not end there. If you are a woman or young girl, hackers might go into your computer to see intimate moments, which they can take pictures or video of and put on the Internet. Mijangos used these photos, as well as photos already on the hard drive of the woman's computer, to blackmail his victims into taking racy photos or videos for his pleasure.
One of Mijangos's victims, a 35-year-old auditor identified by the initials S.M., described the horrors of having nude photos of herself released on her friend's MySpace page for the world to see. The same woman also told the jury that Mijangos threatened to release some more photos to her employer. Such actions as these created a new label for Mijangos's crime, which is now coined for future crimes: sextortion.
Another way a hacker can use these photos is to set up accounts through social media, for financial gain, or to establish credibility. A photo of you facing the camera can establish the hacker on other sites, and if he needs more photos, all he needs to do is go back into your computer an take more photos.
Furthermore, once the software is installed, the hacker has access to all your files, including any sensitive information about your finances you might have lying around your desktop. The hacker can either use this information to hack your finances and open new lines of credit or sell this information to other hackers. Additionally, if there is any information about where you or loved ones live, the hacker can use this information to break into your home, or sexually assault you.
A Hacker's Perspective
When it comes to using hacking for evil, many hackers see no problem with what they are doing. With an already untainted moral conscience, Hacker Forum further exposes, within the hacker community, an absent fear of consequences. As one member posted: "Well ik this was nooby but im in experienced with ratting. How do i completely disable my skype basically delete it?!??!? They are threatening to press charges please help?" he was met with casual, consoling responses. "Really think about it, No "cyber police" and or FBI / cia what ever you want to call it is going to hunt you down for "RATTING" a kid" and "just uninstall him and you will be fine" are some of the resulting comments that the post received. Despite the activities they partake in, the ratter culture avoids paranoia of being "ratted" out themselves. And why should they? Many hackers who are found out manage to evade jail time.
Blocking A Hacker
With all the ways hackers can infiltrate your devices the question remains: can they be stopped? By understanding how RAT and tools like it gain their access, we may identify proactive behaviors that can help prevent cyber intrusions. By following these simple steps, you can protect your computer and yourself from almost all forms of web-based exploitation:
1. Cover your camera. Unless you are using video chat or taking photos, your camera should be covered to protect against hackers and perverts. If you forgot to cover your camera, be aware of when your camera light is on. If you are not using a video or photo-based application even if a window pops up saying your webcam is "running tests," this light should not be on.
2. Do not click on any emails that you cannot trace. If it is not from an organization you know and are a part of or it is not from a friend or family member, it should not be opened. If you open an email like this on accident, do not click on any links. These links are the Trojan horses that allow hackers to gain full access to your computer in mere seconds.
3. Avoid torrents and downloading media off of YouTube. Hackers call this "spreading" and it is through this method that they are able to infiltrate your devices. Keep your downloads as clean and legitimate as possible. If you are unsure, do not click.
4. Research. The best way to beat hackers is to know their strategies. Sites like Hack Forums are "above ground," meaning that they are public forums that do not require vetting to enter, and are filled with information on the newest tools hackers are using. With this knowledge you can better equip yourself and your computer against unwanted guests.