In a long and moving account of an annus horribilis to rival the worst of them, Charlotte Laws explains how she waged war on Hunter Moore, the founder of the defunct "revenge-porn" site Is Anyone Up? Laws became involved when her daughter's email was hacked and a photo that revealed her breast ended up on Moore's site. Laws is at pains to explain that a very large slice of "revenge porn" does not originate with bitter ex-boyfriends. A large proportion of the material is "frankensteined" porn in which a woman's face is shooped onto the naked body of a porn star, and another slice comes from hacked personal accounts, like Laws's daughter's.
Laws braved brutal harassment and death threats as she painstakingly built a network of Moore's victims, who attacked him online -- watching for him to resurface on Facebook, where he'd been banned, waiting until he'd built a thousand followers, then getting him kicked off; complaining to his service providers, and aiding victims in using takedown notices to get their photos removed -- and offline. Laws chased law enforcement agencies at the local and national level, doggedly continuing until she spurred an FBI investigation that ultimately brought the site down (Moore's prosecution is pending).
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This week, the FBI arrested a 19-year-old computer science student named Jared James Abrahams for tricking young women into installing malicious software on their computers, software that let him covertly operate their webcams and microphones, as well as capturing their keystrokes and plundering their hard-drives. Abrahams captured nude photos of his victims, then threatened to release them to the victims' social media accounts unless they performed live, on-camera sex-acts for him. At least one of his victims was a minor. Another of his victims was Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, who turned him into the FBI.
Ars Technica's Nate Anderson has a spellbinding account of Abrahams's crimes, and the way that the FBI tracked him down, and he places Abrahams in the larger context of "RATers" (crooks who operate Remote Access Trojans -- the kind of malware used by Abrahams). This phenomenon is also the subject of one of the chapters in Anderson's excellent book The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed, and few journalists are better qualified to write about the subject.
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I reviewed Ronald Diebert's new book Black Code in this weekend's edition of the Globe and Mail. Diebert runs the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and has been instrumental in several high-profile reports that outed government spying (like Chinese hackers who compromised the Dalai Lama's computer and turned it into a covert CCTV) and massive criminal hacks (like the Koobface extortion racket). His book is an amazing account of how cops, spies and crooks all treat the Internet as the same kind of thing: a tool for getting information out of people without their knowledge or consent, and how they end up in a kind of emergent conspiracy to erode the net's security to further their own ends. It's an absolutely brilliant and important book:
Ronald Deibert’s new book, Black Code, is a gripping and absolutely terrifying blow-by-blow account of the way that companies, governments, cops and crooks have entered into an accidental conspiracy to poison our collective digital water supply in ways small and large, treating the Internet as a way to make a quick and dirty buck or as a snoopy spy’s best friend. The book is so thoroughly disheartening for its first 14 chapters that I found myself growing impatient with it, worrying that it was a mere counsel of despair.
But the final chapter of Black Code is an incandescent call to arms demanding that states and their agents cease their depraved indifference to the unintended consequences of their online war games and join with civil society groups that work to make the networked society into a freer, better place than the world it has overwritten.
Deibert is the founder and director of The Citizen Lab, a unique institution at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. It is one part X-Files hacker clubhouse, one part computer science lab and one part international relations observatory. The Citizen Lab’s researchers have scored a string of international coups: Uncovering GhostNet, the group of Chinese hackers taking over sensitive diplomatic computers around the world and eavesdropping on the private lives of governments; cracking Koobface, a group of Russian petty crooks who extorted millions from random people on the Internet, a few hundred dollars at a time; exposing another Chinese attack directed at the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. Each of these exploits is beautifully recounted in Black Code and used to frame a larger, vivid narrative of a network that is global, vital and terribly fragile.
Yes, fragile. The value of the Internet to us as a species is incalculable, but there are plenty of parties for whom the Internet’s value increases when it is selectively broken.
How to make cyberspace safe for human habitation
Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace
The FBI has indicted Adam Paul Savader for "sextortion," alleging that he hacked women's computers, plundered compromising photos of them, and then threatened them with public embarrassment unless they performed private sex shows for him over their webcams. Savader was Paul Ryan's sole campaign intern in the 2012 elections, and Gawker reports that he also served on the 2011 Gingrich campaign, dressing up as Ellis the Elephant, a mascot for the campaign.
Paul Ryan's Campaign Intern Indicted for Cyberstalking
(via Super Punch)