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Girls tricked by STEAMY message: Webcam spyware student jailed

'It's the only way to, er, clean the sensor'

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A cyberstalking computer science student who tricked women into taking computers with hacked webcams into steamy shower rooms has been jailed for 12 months.

Trevor Timothy Harwell, 21, of Fullerton in California, will be forced to spend five years on probation following his release and ordered to complete a sex offender treatment programme after he was convicted of illegally installing spyware on six women’s computers in order to capture images and videos for his "subsequent sexual gratification". Fullerton pleaded guilty to six felony counts of computer access and fraud, a statement by Orange County prosecutors on the case explains.

Cyberstalkers have been getting their rocks off by secretly snooping on female victims via webcams for several years. In some case, young women and girls have been blackmailed into performing further nude poses and sex acts by hackers threatening to distribute the compromising images they had already captured of their victims via the internet.

Harwell added a twisted refinement to the basic scam by making sure infected computers displayed a bogus error message to increase the chances of capturing nude pictures and movies.

The bogus error message stated: "You should fix your internal sensor soon. If unsure what to do, try putting your laptop near hot steam for several minutes to clean the sensor."

Despite the implausibility of this message, several women were nonetheless tricked into taking their laptops into their bathroom while taking a steamy shower.

Harwell was able to install "CamCapture" spyware onto victims' computers in the first place because he worked part time as a computer repairman, specialising in fixing Macs, starting in June 2009. Harwell met his six identified victims through friends and his church before gaining access to their computers under the pretense of providing computer support. The scheme was exposed after two of his victims, who happened to be sisters, observed that the computer camera was irregularly blinking and took it to be repaired at a different shop.

The presence of spyware was detected and the matter was reported to police who opened an investigation that identified four other victims as well as fingering Harwell as a prime suspect in the case. Thousands of secretly taken still images and videos were found on Harwell's computer. He was charged in June 2009.

Additional commentary on the case can be found in a blog post by Graham Cluley of Sophos here. ®

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