Hackers have been flooding inboxes across the world with messages that claim to have taken over your computer and filmed you watching porn. Pay up (in Bitcoin, naturally) or your adult video-watching habits will be made public, the messages say. Before you have a heart attack, though, know that it’s all a ruse.
Millions of emails were sent to recipients last month in a variety of languages including English, French, Japanese and Arabic, according to security researchers at IBM.
In the messages, the hacker claims to have installed a “RAT” or remote access Trojan on the recipient’s computer. “I posted my virus on porn site, and then you installed it on your Operation System [sic],” the message will read. “After installation, your front camera shoots video every time you masturbate.”
The email then contains a threat: pay up or the video will be sent to all your friends and colleagues. The messages demand that you send between $250 and $550 in Bitcoin to a digital wallet.
The crooks don’t actually have access to your computer, nor do they have any idea if you watch porn. The hackers are simply trying to scare you into giving into their extortion demand, IBM’s research report said.
Unfortunately, the ploy appears to be working. IBM’s security researchers examined some of the emails, and collected over 500 Bitcoin wallet addresses. Twenty of those wallets now hold over $50,000 in Bitcoin.
“Like other phishing and social engineering scams, it is often a numbers game,” IBM researchers said. Only a few victims need to fall for the scheme to make it worthwhile.
So who might be behind the extortion scheme? IBM researchers point to the notorious Necurs botnet, which has been around since 2012, and according to security researchers, is available for rent to cybercriminals who use it to spread ransomware, banking Trojans, and spam email. At least a million infected computers are believed to be part of the botnet.
The scam is a reminder to carefully scrutinize incoming email. Another variation of the scam claims to have caught the email recipient having an extramarital affair. Security journalist Brian Krebs also documented a similar “sextortion” email scheme in July. However, the hackers tried to lend the threat some added credibility by including an old password the email recipient once used.
“Put simply, you should always avoid opening unsolicited email. This can minimize the opportunity to fall for a social engineering scam,” IBM researchers said. To further protect yourself, consider covering your computer’s webcam when it’s not in use.