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Miss Teen US 'sextortion' hacker pleads guilty

19-year-old cops to capturing pics and vids on hacked webcams

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A teenage computer science student from California faces a possible prison sentence after pleading guilty to hacking into the webcams of young women, among them Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf.

Jared James Abrahams, 19, of Temecula in California, admitted to hacking into the computers of at least two dozen women including Wolf before covertly taking pictures of them in various states of undress using computer webcams. He subsequently threatened to publish these photos online through social media websites unless his victims complied with his demands to supply even more intimate images or videos of them stripping.

His victims' ages ranged from 16 to 20-something and they were from countries including Ireland, Canada, Russia and Moldova as well as the US, according to prosecutors. According to an FBI statement released at the time of Abrahams' arrest in September:

The sextortion investigation began around March 2013 and continued for several months as multiple victims’ online accounts were compromised, or hacked, by an individual later identified as Abrahams. According to the complaint, Abrahams used malicious software and tools to disguise his identity in order to capture nude photos or videos of female victims through remote operation of their webcams without their consent. Abrahams contacted some victims using email accounts he had taken over, in some cases.

The complaint alleges Abrahams targeted some victims he knew personally and identified others by hacking into Facebook pages shared by other victims. The complaint alleges Abrahams would generally attach victims’ photos to emails he sent them when he made extortionate demands. Abrahams threatened to publicly post compromising photos or video to the victims’ online social media accounts unless the victim either sent nude photos or videos or engaged in a Skype session with him and did what he said for five minutes, according to the complaint.

At least two victims complied with his demands, authorities said in court records.

Abrahams has pleaded guilty to three counts of extortion and one count of unauthorised access of a computer. He is due to be sentenced in March, when he faces a likely sentence of around two-and-a-half years imprisonment, but could potentially serve 11 years, according to a plea bargaining deal.

Using malware to infect personal computers before initiating sexual-related blackmail attempts has sadly become far from rare over recent years. The consequences for victims can be harrowing, traumatic and (in isolated cases) has even led to a victim's suicide.

"Cassidy Wolf, who apparently was a classmate of Abrahams, did not buckle to his blackmail threats, and has used her platform as a beauty pageant winner to warn other young people of the risks posed by webcams," notes veteran antivirus researcher Graham Cluley in a blog post.

"If you’re worried that hackers might be able to see you through your webcam, take care over the links you click on and the software you install on your computer, keep your security patches and anti-virus software up-to-date and consider sticking a band-aid over the webcam when you don’t want to use it," he advised.

Wolf herself echoed the same advice about covering webcams when not in use in a Twitter update. ®

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