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PC consultant pleads not guilty to malware 'sextortion' plot

Unknowing victims shot in some sort of undress

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A California computer consultant has pleaded not guilty to federal charges he engaged in an insidious “sextortion” scheme in which he hacked into scores of computers and used the personal information he found to extort sexually explicit videos from female victims, many of whom were juveniles.

Luis Mijangos of Santa Ana, California, entered the plea in Los Angeles federal court on Monday, assistant US attorney Mark Krause said. He remains free on a $10,000 unsecured bond, according to court documents.

According to court documents, Mijangos used peer-to-peer networks to infect more than 100 computers with malware that allowed him to take full control of video cameras and access intimate pictures, videos and other files. He then notified female victims that he planned to publish the sensitive information unless they provided him with sexually explicit videos.

In other cases, Mijangos used the compromised computers of teenage boys to trick their girlfriends into providing him with “intimate images and videos,” according to an indictment filed in the case. He would then contact the female victims directly and demand additional intimate content.

Investigators who searched Mijangos's home said they found dozens of videos that appeared to be shot from the web cams of infected PCs. They “showed the unknowing victim in some sort of undress (ie getting out of the shower, dressing for the day, having sex with a partner)”, according to an affidavit filed in the case. Many of the victims remain unidentified and appear to be juveniles.

Mijangos is also accused of using the information lifted from infected PCs to engage in payment card fraud. In March, he possessed at least 15 “unauthorized access devices,” which is legal parlance for things such as stolen usernames and passwords, account numbers and verification numbers. Institutions that were allegedly defrauded included PayPal and Wachovia Bank.

His next court appearance is scheduled for August 9 for a pre-trial status conference. Trial has been set for August 17, but it wouldn't be surprising for that date to be pushed back, given the complexity of the case. ®

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