Sextortion is a means of coercing cybercrime victims to perform sexual favours or pay large sums of money in exchange for the non-exposure of their explicit images, videos or conversations. It is nothing new in the cybercriminal landscape and these extortion tools are normally obtained through various chat programmes, most notably Skype because of its multimedia capabilities.
In a recent research paper released by security experts Trend Micro, the company cites examples of sextortion in the Far East that demonstrate how cybercriminals’ improved sextortion tactics involve the use of mobile malware to steal data from victims’ mobile devices, which is then used to scare victims into paying cybercriminals off. Based on the evidence represented in the paper Trend Micro researchers have deduced that sextortion has changed from a mere means of soliciting sexual favours into a lucrative money making scheme.
Members of a sextortion crime ring in the Philippines created fake Facebook accounts, which presented them as attractive women to lure men into chatting with them. They then asked them to video-chat on Skype so they could engage in cybersex, which would allow the cybercriminals to record the victims.
These videos were used to blackmail victims into paying the perpetrators about US$1000 each to keep the compromising content private. Victims were told that refusal to pay up meant that their videos would be made publicly available on YouTube or sent to all of their online contacts.
However, more recent examples of sextortion include a mobile component where cybercriminals pretend to experience audio problems during chat or Skype sessions and convince victims to download an Android application to fix the problem, forcing victims to use an Android smartphone or mobile device.
Based on the analyses of Trend Micro researchers the disguised malware or data stealers used by these cybercriminals are persistent and exhibit various intrusive behaviours including retrieving and sending a victim’s entire contact list and account IDs, sending, deleting and intercepting messages, making, intercepting and termination calls, recording audio and getting the detailed location of the device.
“The new developments is sextortion mean that it can have a more damaging effect, as the cybercriminals can directly contact or share information with the victim’s family and friends. This is exactly what makes these occurrences so difficult to investigate, especially in more conservative societies. Victim’s would much rather pay up than risk the content being seen by anyone,” says Gregory Anderson, country manager at Trend Micro South Africa.
“Sextortion is a widespread, global issue, but it is taboo, and victims will most likely never admit to having been caught on tape in the first place. The cases discovered by our researchers were complex operations that involved people across cultures and nations working together to effectively run a lucrative business. These cybercriminals were specifically targeting those who they knew would be most vulnerable because of their culture.”