Nate Anderson's long Ars Technica piece on RATters -- men who use "Remote Administration Tools" to spy on others, mostly women, via their laptop cameras, and to plunder their computers for files and passwords -- is a must-read. Anderson lays out the way that online communities like Hack Forums provide expertise, tools, and, most importantly, validation for the men who participate in this "game." Anderson explains the power of software like DarkComet, which allows for near-total control of compromised computers (everything from opening the CD trays to disabling the Start menu in Windows); the dehumanizing language used by Ratters (they call their victims "slaves"); and the way that these tools have found their way into the arsenals of totalitarian governments, like the Assad regime in Syria, which used these tools to spy on rebels.
For many ratters, though, the spying remains little more than a game. It might be an odd hobby, but it's apparently no big deal to invade someone's machine, rifle through the personal files, and watch them silently from behind their own screens. "Most of my slaves are boring," wrote one aspiring ratter. "Wish I could get some more girls with webcams. It makes it more exciting when you can literally spy on someone. Even if they aren't getting undressed!"
One poster said he had already archived 200GB of webcam material from his slaves. "Mostly I pick up the best bits (funny parts, the 'good' [sexual] stuff) and categorize them (name, address, passwords etc.), just for funsake," he wrote. "For me I don't have the feeling of doing something perverted, it's more or less a game, cat and mouse game, with all the bonuses included. The weirdest thing is, when I see the person you've been spying on in real life, I've had that a couple of times, it just makes me giggle, especially if it's someone with an uber-weird-nasty habit."
By finding their way to forums filled with other ratters, these men—and they appear to be almost exclusively men—gain community validation for their actions. "lol I have some good news for u guys we will all die sometime, really glad to know that there are other people like me who do this shit," one poster wrote. "Always thought it was some kind of wierd sick fetish because i enjoy messing with my girl slaves."
Everything we do today involves computers and everything we do tomorrow will require computers. It's imperative that computers be designed to reveal themselves to their users and owners -- every program and process accessible to users and owners by design. But we continue to erode this fundamental through bans on jailbreaking and unlocking, and through the governmental trade in "zero-day" exploits intended for use in so-called cyberwar.
Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams [Nate Anderson/Ars Technica]