Editorial: Fighting sextortion

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Sunday, May 4, 2014


FROM April 30 to May 1, “Operation Strike Back” arrested 58 Filipinos suspected of involvement in a global “sextortion” scheme using social networking sites.

According to a May 2 report by Third Anne Peralta on Sun.Star Network Online, “Operation Strike Back” involved joint operations by the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, Department of Justice, Scotland Police, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), Hong Kong Police, Singapore Police, US Homeland Security Investigation, Child Exploitation Online Protection and Australian Federal Police.

Interpol director Sanjay Virmani said that “Operation Strike Back” was conducted first in the Philippines because of the PNP’s “willingness and dedication… to cooperate with
the operation.”

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The inter-agency operation was initiated in November 2013 to address the rising number of sextortion victims in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, United Kingdom and the US.

On the rise

“Operation Strike Back” tapped information technology experts in tracing sextortionists through the Internet Protocol address they used and the money trail by which the victims paid the sextortionists.

Federal Bureau of Investigation data show that sextortion is on the rise. An online article posted by Lysa Myers cites two strategies used in sextortion.

Using trust as a tactic, the perpetrator tricks the victim into sending compromising images or intimate details. The perpetrator uses this as leverage to exert power over the victim by demanding more sensitive images or videos or demanding blackmail money.

Using malware as a tactic, the perpetrator manipulates a webcam in the victim’s computer to surreptitiously record compromising images.

“Operation Strike Back” cited the suicide of a Scottish teenager who was blackmailed by Filipino sextortionists last year. Through a social networking site, Daniel Perry, 17, befriended someone who pretended to be a girl of his age. Their online chats progressed to cybersex.

Unknown to Perry, his online friend was a con artist who recorded their activities and threatened to upload the videos if he did not pay from US$500 to $2,000. An apprentice mechanic, Perry was unable to pay his blackmailer. Less than an hour after he was taunted to kill himself, Perry jumped to his death from a bridge in Scotland.

No limits

Authorities warn that anyone can be victimized by sextortionists.

While international cybercrime authorities share intelligence and investigate syndicates, there are measures for shielding oneself and one’s family and friends from sextortion scams, according to Myers.

When not in use, stand-alone webcams should be turned off or covered with an opaque sticker. Unplugging or closing laptops can also prevent scam artists from using malware to take recordings without one’s knowledge and permission.

Computers and similar devices should be placed in rooms where a responsible adult can supervise their use by minors. Smartphones are more difficult to monitor since these can be used when there is no parent or guardian to supervise. Preventing a child from bringing a smartphone or resorting to parental control software are options.

Myers also suggests resorting to layered security, such as using strong passwords, verifying with senders before opening suspicious attachments, using a firewall, and updating anti-malware software.

Remaining open to one’s children may not only protect them from online predators but also prevent further traumatization if they are victimized. In Perry’s case, his mother said they respected his privacy, including his online activities, as he was turning 18. It is important to suspend judgment because, as Myers argues: “The targets of (sextortion) are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat.”

Any attempt at sextortion must be reported to the police. When parents or guardians are supportive, children and minors develop a strong sense of self-worth. They will also report attempts to extort money without resorting to desperate measures.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 05, 2014.

Opinion

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