‘Peeping Tom’ webcam blackmailer jailed for six years

Luis Mijangos. Picture credit: Nick Ut/APA man from Southern California who hacked into over 100 computers, and used personal information stolen from them to extort sexually explicit videos of young women and teenage girls, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

32-year-old Luis Mijangos, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was living in Santa Ana, California, was arrested last year after a lengthy investigation by the authorities.

Mijangos infected his victims’ computers with malware, allowing him to gain access to their email accounts, turn on their webcam to take secret movies, and search their PCs for sexually explicit and intimate images and videos.

In some cases, Mijangos also posed as some of the victims’ boyfriends to convince them to send him nude pictures.

At this point, things got really nasty. Mijangos would threaten to post his victims’ intimate images online unless they provided him with more sexually explicit photos and videos for his personal gratification.

In at least one instance, Mijangos posted naked photographs of a woman on her friend’s MySpace page.

Mijangos, who is confined to a wheelchair because of a medical condition, was sentenced to six years in prison by US District Judge George King.

Before sentencing, Mijangos apologised to his victims:

"To all the victims I want to say that I'm sorry. I'm ready to do the right thing and stay out of trouble."

WebcamMijangos is far from the first hacker to take remote control of webcams to spy upon victims.

For instance, in early 2005, Spanish authorities fined a student who captured movie footage from unsuspecting users, and arrested a 37-year-old man who spied on victims via a webcam while stealing banking information.

The following year, Adrian Ringland, from the English town of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, was sentenced to jail for ten years after admitting posing as a minor on internet chatrooms and using spyware to take explicit photographs via children’s webcams.

And in 2008, a 27-year-old Canadian man was charged with using spyware to take over the webcams of women as young as 14 and coercing them into posing naked for him.

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising incident I have heard of, however, is the case of the man who is alleged to have displayed error messages on his potential victims’ laptop screens, tricking them into taking their webcams into the shower with them.

With many home users keeping poorly-defended PCs in their bedroom, there is clearly considerable potential for abuse – particularly amongst the young. The message is simple: keep your PC protected against the latest threats with anti-malware software, security patches and firewalls, and if in any doubt unplug your webcam when you’re not using it.

Picture credit: Nick Ut/AP

Peeping Tom tricked women into taking hacked webcams into shower, claim police

ShowerThe problem of perverts and cyberstalkers using malware to grab control over female victims’ webcams is one that has been around for quite some time.

Hackers can secretly spy upon people in their bedrooms, and even exploit technology to blackmail young women into posing naked, threatening that they will send other compromising photos to their online friends.

It’s pretty unsavoury stuff, and has probably made some women cautious of handing over their computers to that ever-so-friendly repair man, fearful of what they might install while the computer is in their care.

In the latest case, a 20-year-old man has been arrested for allegedly infecting young women’s Apple Mac computers with spyware that could commandeer their webcam.

Trevor HarwellTrevor Harwell, of Orange County, California, is said to have rigged the MacBooks with error messages that would increase the chances of him capturing nude pictures and movies of the young women.

You’re probably wondering what kind of error messages would achieve such a result.

"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."

According to Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, the error message tricked many victims into taking laptops into their bathroom while taking a steamy shower.

The sleazy scheme was only brought to light last summer when a mother became suspicious about the unlikely messages appearing on her daughter’s computer.

Hundreds of thousands of surreptitiously taken still images, videos and cellphone videos were seized from Hawell’s computer according to a report in the LA Times.

Anyone woman who believes they might have been a victim is invited to contact Fullerton Det. Kathryn Hamel at (714) 738-5327.

Of course, and perhaps most disturbingly, there was nothing stopping the victim of the alleged surveillance being under-age.

It’s true of people of any age, but young people’s PCs must be properly protected with the latest anti-virus software, security patches and firewalls. It is also essential that young people are taught how to behave safely online, to avoid being exploited by sick-minded hackers.

Thanks for helping, and stay safe online.