Hacking online predatory criminals

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

Every so often a story comes out that makes me giddy. Scammers and even pedophiles are getting hacked by vengeful insidious opportunists.

Who doesn’t love vigilante justice? Some readers may remember Charles Bronson, an American actor who starred in the popular series Death Wish. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a man whose wife is murdered and whose charlesbronsondaughter raped. In response, Kersey becomes a crime-fighting vigilante. This was a highly controversial role, as his executions were cheered by crime-weary audiences.

There is a certain amount of satisfaction when the victim becomes victor, exacting justice, and the predator that violates the law is sufficiently punished by the vigilante. Anyone who has ever entertained vengeance fantasies can relate. Of course, one doesn’t need to have been victimized in order to seek justice. Security guard David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis in the movie Unbreakable, avenges a crime committed against someone else.

The Internet has spawned a new breed of opportunist predator. The anonymity of the web, coupled with the inherent naïveté of many computer users, along with development of new technology at a speed that outpaces the learning curve of most users, make confidence crimes easier than nigerian-scammerever.

What I find most disturbing are parents with young families who allow their children full, unsupervised Internet access. Fox News reports that in the past 5 years, federal agents have set up honeypots of agents posing as minors to attract pedophiles and have caught upwards of 11,000 in their nets. If they caught 11,000, there must be multitudes that haven’t been caught. What most people don’t realize is that there are over a half million registered sex offenders in the United States, and over 100,000 more sex predators unaccounted for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” used to be the extent of our personal security training. Now, a stranger can be in your 12-year-old daughter’s bedroom at 2 am, chatting on his or her webcam, or even under the covers on the iPhone that he bought her in order to evade her parents’ grasp.

Now, a new form of vigilante justice is occurring: scammers are illegally scamming, blackmailing and extorting other scammers.

The FBI recently caught up with one couple who has been posing as minors, engaging sexual predators in explicit online conversations and then adding a twist. This tech savvy couple are also hackers who engage in black-hat activities. As the predators attempted to gain the trust of the supposed “minors,” the couple was actually gaining access to the predators’ computers, sending numerous files that, when opened, launched an executable and granted full and unauthorized access to the kiddy-fiddlers’ computer systems. After gaining access to the predators’ computers, the couple learned their names, addresses, family members’ contact information, places of employment, and the user names and passwords for all of their financial accounts. Once armed with this type of data, the fun began. The couple would access the pedophiles’ bank, eBay and Paypal accounts. They would also blackmail their victims, threatening to expose their deviant behaviors to anyone who would listen if they didn’t cough up blackmailsome cash. In one instance, after financial demands were made and not met, the couple accessed the user name and password of a New York teacher who didn’t comply and posted the explicit chats to the teacher’s school’s intranet.

In another example, 3 men apprehended in Kentucky set up a fake child pornography website, then extorted money out of their customers. When arrested, the men confessed to the crime but claimed that they were doing it to punish child pornographers.

Call this blackmail, call it extortion, or call it vigilante justice. You decide.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft speaker discusses online predators.

Protect your identity and your child’s identity. Install McAfee security software on your PC to prevent predators from intruding. And install child monitoring software to watch your kids online.

I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself. Check out uniball-na.com for more information.

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