Guard Your Webcams: A Deeply Disturbing Tale of ‘Sextortion’

Photo by MAGAN CRANE/AFP/Getty Images

Typically, the words sextortion or sexting or any other enjambed neologism brings out the skeptic in me: Such stories usually seem inflammatory, hysterical, tinged with technophobia.

But this is not such a case. Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson has penned a chilling tale of “an omniscient Internet ‘sextortionist’ [who] ruined the lives of teen girls.” The outlines sound like an exaggerated cautionary-tale Lifetime movie: A paraplegic illegal immigrant from Mexico uses his computer skills to victimize 230 people, including 44 juveniles; his victims were mostly women, but there were some men, too. Thirty-two-year-old Luis “Guicho” Mijangos engaged in some of your everyday computer malfeasance, like scamming credit cards. But the truly creepy part was his “sextortion” habit.

“A favorite trick was seeding peer-to-peer networks with popular-sounding song titles that were actually malware; when someone downloaded and executed the file, their machine was infected and would open itself to Mijangos’s control,” Anderson writes. Once downloaded, he could monitor emails and IMs, turn on webcams, and search for nude videos and photos. He sometimes identified a woman’s boyfriend’s screen name, then create a similar handle and IM her to request naughty images. Once the victims realized what was going on—sometimes when they noticed that their webcam lights were turning on inexplicably—he would call and taunt them. Earlier this month, Mijangos was sentenced to 72 months in prison “for his ‘psychological warfare’ and ‘sustained effort to terrorize victims.’ ”

Anderson’s frightening, compelling piece, which mixes the technical details of Mijangos’ crimes with the victims’ fright, is well worth the read.

Read more on Ars Technica.