NASA 'sextortionist' allegedly tricked women into revealing their password reset answers, stole their nude selfies
Then exploited pix to demand more X-rated snaps, Feds claim
A former NASA contractor was arrested and charged on Wednesday for allegedly sextorting women.
Richard Gregory Bauer, 28, was detained at his Los Angeles home by special agents from the space agency's internal watchdog. Bauer is accused of stalking, unauthorized access to protected computers, and aggravated identity theft, according to a 14-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on August 28 – and obtained by The Register this week.
US prosecutors claim that between February 7, 2015, and June 11, 2018, Bauer – who worked at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California – harassed seven women over the internet by claiming he had compromising pictures of them naked. He allegedly threatened to spread the images publicly online unless they gave him additional X-rated snapshots.
For six of the women, according to the US government, Bauer did have nude pictures, which he obtained by hacking the victims' accounts with Facebook, Google, and other online services. The indictment stated Bauer, without attempting to conceal his identity, contacted some of the women through Facebook messages to ask them a series of questions, under the pretense that he needed survey data for his "human societies class."
Some of the questions were those used by online services to reset passwords, such as the city where the victim's parents met, the name of her first pet, or the make of her first car.
With the answers provided, the indictment stated, Bauer was able to log into the victims' online profiles and private photo albums, where in most cases he found explicit images he could use against them. He is then alleged to have contacted the victims under a different identity with messages like this:
So a mutual friend gave me some picture of you, and said you would give me more. I liked what I saw. I assume this is you? i have mannnnnny more. So what do you say about giving me some more? I dont want to put these somewhere…
The charges against Bauer also claimed he convinced some victims to install malware on their computers, under the pretense that he needed help testing some image enhancement software he'd written.
Some of the victims responded by changing their email address or deleting their Facebook account, however the indictment stated Bauer continued to harass them.
A NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center spokesperson declined to provide details about Bauer or his contract work and would not identify the contracting firm that employed him. A call to the NASA Office of Inspector General special agent handling the case was not immediately answered.
A spokesperson for the US Attorney's Office said Bauer was working as a NASA contractor during the period that most if not all of the alleged offenses occurred. The spokesperson declined to comment on whether Bauer used NASA equipment in furtherance of his alleged scheme, but said a probe was launched after a coworker provided information to NASA's Office of Inspector General.
The indictment noted that the last victim worked with an undercover law enforcement officer, who monitored Bauer's alleged threats to expose nude pictures. If convicted on all 14 counts, Bauer could be sent down for as long as 64 years.
Don't forget to switch on your two-factor or multi-factor authentication on your accounts, folks. ®