New Cyber Blackmail Trend

Tina Reilly
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Just on the heels of a report from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) that the year 2003 was overrun with cyber crime incidents which rose 60 percent from last year, news out of the United Kingdom is warning of a new cyber blackmail trend aimed at small businesses and office workers.

According to authorities, the cyber shakedown is happening in greater numbers than previously seen at the beginning of this year and is being waged by scammers who threaten average PC users that if financial demands are not met, porn files will be downloaded or company files will be randomly deleted.

Cyber crime authorities are finding that cyber blackmail is difficult to trace because of the small amount of money that is exchanged and because the threats often take place in the workplace where reputations are guarded.

According to reports, cyber blackmail typically appears in the form of a random email from the extortionist to the office worker. The message states that the sender of the email has gained control of the user's computer through a glitch in the company network.

The threatening email also contains a demand for a ransom of some sort, which according to Reuters starts out in small increments of $20 in exchange for the scammer's promise to leave the PC user alone and save them any undeserved embarrassment from management if child porn or adult porn files are indiscriminately discovered on the employee's hard drive.

Over time, authorities say, the threats become more significant and the user or company find themselves being threatened with a slew of network-damaging prospects, like viruses being unleashed or having large amounts of data confiscated or destroyed.

If the user is duped into the threat, then funds are either transferred to the extortionist' bank account or the blackmail fee goes on a credit card. One security advisor told Reuters that once the money is paid, the victim is identified as a "soft target" and can pretty much expect the blackmailer to return.

"They prey on the nice secretary who wouldn't do anything wrong," a detective told Reuters. "When she gets one of these emails she thinks 'Oh, my goodness what am I going to do?' So she puts it on her credit card and transfers the funds to the (suspect's online bank) account and hopes it goes away."

Cyber blackmail is also being tracked on a larger scale and was seen earlier this year at a Scandinavian university that received a series of threatening emails claiming that the scammer was privy to security weaknesses in the university's network that would be exploited if money wasn't transferred to the blackmailers bank account, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the IFCC reported 120,000 online fraud cases over the past 12 months, compared to only 75,000 last year.