Friday, December 2, 2016

"Shut up and dance"

The best of the week in Cybersecurity

A timid boy who works at a fast food restaurant. A family man who is going through the 50s crisis. At first glance, they seem to have nothing in common. However, if we look closer, we can see their faces of concern. They are hiding something. Something bad of what they are ashamed of. And there is someone on the other side of their computers who knows exactly what it is and is planning to make them pay for it.


How far would you be willing to keep something disgraceful of yours as a secret? This is the premise of the third episode in the last season of Black Mirror, a Netflix series that presents a shocking future related to technology. With no intention of making a spoiler, we will just say that the episode is about different cases of “sextortion”. The word refers to a type of sexual blackmail in which sexual images or videos are used to extort money from others.

The episode, thrilling from the beginning to the end, becomes much darker when we find out that real life can be more shocking than fiction and that real cases are happening among us. This week we have found out that four British men have committed suicide in the last year, victims of webcam blackmail. According to the police, the number of people reporting webcam blackmails has more than doubled from 385 in 2015 to 864 up to November 2016. The National Crime Agency (NCA) said it believed it was also significantly under-reported and actual numbers of victims were likely much higher.

No one wants their compromising photos to come to light or circulate among their friends, colleagues, family, the media… Cybercriminals take advantage of this and they demand a lot of money in exchange. We warn you: it will never be enough. In the fiction, the characters try to do everything to make the extortionists stop, but they keep asking for more and more.

According to the British National Criminal Agency (NCA), 95%  of “sextortion” victims are men between 14 and 82 years old, with a bigger proportion between the ages of 21 and 30. “They feel embarrassed and don’t see a way out. That’s why they think about suicide. Criminals take advantage of that”, Ron Sinclair, from the NCA, says. He advises to go to the police immediately, keep the chat conversations and, above all, don’t pay anything. Because the more money you give them, the more they demand. 


In cyber security, precaution is key.  If you don’t like the idea of having malware on your computer, don’t download files from suspicious sites. If you don’t want to appear naked on the Internet, don’t take a picture and, of course, never send it to anyone. Right now, criminals can hack any electronic device: drones, smartphones, microphones, computers… This week we have seen two cases. Firstly, webcams that can be hijacked by a single HTTP request. Secondly, San Francisco train system attacked by ransomware and passengers getting free rides. Days later, the hacker was hacked too. No one is safe...

It’s obvious threats will always be there. We are not going to live in a cave like hermits, nor throw the mobile to the sea or bury our computer underground. We just need common sense. And if this news from the real world doesn’t convince you, we recommend you fiction. Remember: episode 3, third season of Black Mirror. The title is “Shut up and dance”. After watching it, you will not feel like doing anything, not even sexting.

Image: Black Mirror. Netflix

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