Sextortion photos of Miss Teen USA: Parents, we need a Cyberhood Watch

Sextortion photos: A California teen allegedly hacked into Miss Teen USA's webcam to get nude photos of her for blackmail. Webcams don't have to be a vulnerability in kid safety if parents adopt an ethic of a Cyberhood Watch.  

AP Photo/Miss Universe L.P., LLLP, File
Sextortion photos: A California teen was was arrested on charges stemming from his alleged hacking of webcams to extort women, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.

Seeing the headlines on “sextortion” photos of Miss Teen USA it’s easy to assume that someone got hold of photos taken by someone she knew, but in this case it was her computer’s webcam that betrayed her when it was remotely controlled by a hacker.

It’s time for parents to form a Cyberhood Watch. We need to get the word out to parents that our kids need our protection not only when they are online, but when cameras in their laptops, tablets, and smart phones might be watching them without their or our consent.

The new cybercrime is dubbed “sextortion.” While this is a case of a teen being spied on it made me realize that it could also be used by pedophiles capturing images of younger kids who use our tablets, smart phones, and computers that have built-in cameras.

In the case of Cassidy Wolf, Miss California Teen USA, who won Miss Teen USA last month at the pageant in the Bahamas, it was nude photos.

According to The Associated Press, last month, Wolf told the website of NBC's "Today" show she received an anonymous email in which the sender claimed to have stolen images from the camera on her home computer.

“The sender of the email threatened to go public with images captured from Wolf's webcam unless she would provide nude pictures of herself,” the AP reports. This type of crime is commonly known as "sextortion."

Wolf went to authorities instead.

The AP reports, “An FBI agent's affidavit, included in the complaint, contends that Abrahams used malicious software to remotely operate webcams to capture nude photos and videos of at least seven women as they changed clothes — some of whom he knew personally and others he found by hacking Facebook pages.

The agent alleged that Abrahams, when interviewed, acknowledged controlling 30 to 40 hacked computers and extorting some women.”

George Orwell would have had a field day with the fact that while our webcams let us stay in touch with friends and family, they also pose risks of people hacking into them and spying on every action.

It also made my husband, who is ever distrustful of technology and webcams in particular, right about unplugging or covering the webcam when we are not using it.

There are numerous makers of webcam covers including a little tiny sticker called a “camjamr” that goes over the camera lens on your phone to prevent hackers from using it.

Think of every time you handed your child a device that contained a webcam. Consider all the places your smartphone or laptop have access to in your home as if you were on live TV.

A recent Pennsylvania lawsuit accused a school district of using webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students and their families. Also, in China, hackers known as GhostNet cracked 1,295 webcams in 103 countries, according to the Norton Security website.

While this is deeply disturbing news, the one thing we have over cyber criminals is the fact that we, the parents, were here watching our kids long before they were. We’re better at it, more relentless, and much more dedicated.

If cyber criminals want to mess with a network they had better realize that one composed of angry, protective parents is the wrong one to target. It’s time to get a Cyberhood Watch up and running by blacking-out the view for these peeping-cyberToms.

Fair warning to hackers, we’ve got you in our sights now.

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