Dutch Internet blackmailer gets 10 years

Almost pulled off the perfect e-crime

A 46-year-old Dutch chip programmer who tried to blackmail dairy giant Campina using the most up-to-date Internet technologies, has been jailed for 10 years by a Dutch court on blackmail charges and five counts of attempted murder.

The blackmailer put agricultural poison in Campina Stracciatella desserts in a bid to extort €200,000. To conceal his tracks he used a US anonymity service that allows users to visit web sites without leaving a trail. In this case, however, it didn’t quite work out like that.

The man was convinced he was going to commit the perfect crime. He forced Campina to open a bank account and asked them to deposit € 200,000. Campina was issued with a credit card for the account which the blackmailer intended to use to withdraw the cash.

But not the original card. To avoid breaking cover, he asked Campina to buy a credit card reader and extract the information from the card's magnetic stripe. The output, together with the card's pin code, was sent to him electronically via steganography - a technology for encoding information into pictures.

Campina received an envelope containing a floppy with a stego program and some instructions. The company then had to encode the credit card data into a picture of a VW Golf in an online advertisement for used cars. The blackmailer downloaded the picture, decoded the information it contained, created his own copy of the card, and finally went to withdraw the cash.

To download the online picture, he used the Surfola service (and not Anonymizer.com as we mistakenly wrote in our initial report - apologies to all concerned - Ed), believing the company’s privacy policy would protect him. Not so. Dutch police worked closely with the US company and the FBI to track him down. He was caught red-handed last year when he withdrew the money from a cash machine using his copy of the credit card.

Which just goes to show that even criminal masterminds can make simple mistakes. The error, experts say, could have been easily avoided if the blackmailer had visited an internet café to download the encoded picture, rather than using his own PC. What's more, he paid for the anonymity service through Paypal, giving his personal email address. ®

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