Here’s yet another reason to fear people on social networks.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about privacy issues on social networks, but more than 200 young girls now know the consequences of being too trusting on these sites all too well.

In a practice termed “sextortion” by the FBI, a hacker gathered personal information and used it to extort young girls into providing him with risque pictures and videos in exchange for not forwarding the information to their parents and email contacts.

The hacker, a 31-year-old California man whose name was not released, was arrested following a two-year investigation by a Los Angeles squad of Federal Cyber Investigators.

The method used to hack these computers was called “spear phishing” and the hacker posed online as a friend or relative who wanted to share a video, this was done mostly on popular social networking sites. After clicking on the video, the victims’ computers were completely compromised and the hacker instantly had access to the victim’s files, webcams, and microphones. The hacker was literally given access to spy on the individual through their webcam and could track every keystroke.

“The victims were tricked. They had no idea what had happened until it was too late,” said FBI Special Agent Tanith Rogers.

This method was easily implemented, and the hacker learned it from researching readily available online sources.

“What’s so frightening about this case was how easily the victims’ computers were compromised,” said FBI Special Agent Jeff Kirkpatrick, one of the Los Angeles cyber investigators who worked the case.

Although the hacker was only interested in exploiting these young women sexually, the privacy issues extend to all realms of personal information and security, including identity theft, access to bank accounts or any other records stored on a personal computer. Actual crimes such as robbery or assault could also be cause for concern when addresses revealed. The idea of this virtual stalking has gone from a joke within the virtual world and should now be taken seriously as a potential threat that has attracted federal attention.

What is a greater cause for concern is the potential for people who have a vested interest implementing this type of virus on your computer in order to gather incriminating information on you in your daily life.

The FBI has tips to try and avoid victimization, however until more precautions are put in place, your computer may not be a secure and private haven, not even when you are alone in your home.

About The Author

Joshua Torres is a Blast Magazine correspondent

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