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

Filed Under: Apple, Law & order, Malware, Privacy

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.

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

  1. Jeff · 1234 days ago

    "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."
    Or, you know, we could actually educate people so that they'd stop falling for moronic stuff like this. I swear, we should teach basic programing in highschool, along with actual computer usage classes (ie, not intro to microsoft office).
    If you are dumb enough to fall for this stuff you deserve it.

    • Mark Fisher · 1234 days ago

      how does someones level of intelligence or experience relate to their becoming victims of sexual predators?
      and, why are you justifying the behavior of those predators?

    • I don't exactly agree that anyone deserves this, but I do agree that people are so uneducated. Humidifying a hard drive can and will ruin a laptop extremely fast and anyone who doesn't know better doesn't deserve to own a computer.

      • The exception being a young child of course.

        I don't blame them for not knowing about everything related to computer security, although I would blame their parents for not teaching them about it, or at least ask parents if something suspicious pops up.

  2. Richard · 1234 days ago

    "... there was nothing stopping the victim of the alleged surveillance being under-age"

    Was there actually any evidence to suggest that any of the victims *were* under-age, or is that statement just the usual paedo-paranoia typically thrown around by the tabloids?

    • Mark · 1233 days ago

      "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."

      While acknowledging the age isn't given, I'd guess an older woman is not as likely to have been living with her mother, nor a much older mother to be as computer savvy to be suspicious.

      I don't see any evidence of this so-called "paedo-paranoia" in this article or that statement in particular.

      We do already know there are many sickos are out there and using technology to carry out such or similar sick acts and to not think it's an important issue worth raising awareness for is to be ignorant of the facts.

      Let's not be so quick to make things easier for these people by trying to label straightforward concern for child welfare as some kind of out-of-control mental illness. We don't need to make it harder to raise awareness of these important issues when they are already obviously not high profile enough (judged by the number of incidences I am currently aware of).

      While balance is always important, I suggest that "paedo-ignorance" or "paedo-paranoia-paranoia" are much bigger dangers to us than "paedo-paranoia".

  3. Sam · 1234 days ago

    What good would teaching "basic programming" in college do to prevent this sort of idiocy?

    "Hmm, it says put it by steam, okay, I'll disregard everything I know about electronics and put it into a steamy bathroom. Might as well take a shower while im here..."

    Sorry Jeff, I see your point, but I believe computer knowledge had nothing to do with this. This sounds like a basic con, that sadly people have fallen for.

    To put it in perspective...if you took your car to a repairman, and later you got a message in the mail telling you that there may be a problem with over heating, and you should drive the car into the closest lake and let it sit there...What would you do?

    Im not saying what this guy did was right, and i would never defend this disgusting example of tech repair gone bad, but programming classes? Not gonna do a darn thing.

  4. Matt · 1234 days ago

    Do Macs have the little light next to their webcams that lets you know it's operating? I know HPs have it, and it's always reassuring to know when the camera is and isn't looking at me.

    • spookie · 1233 days ago

      No. Macs do not have a light by the webcam, and if I were a cracker who took over your HP's webcam I'd disable the light on it, too. Disabling the light is no harder than commandeering the webcam, so all the light does is give you a false sense of security. One might actually argue that you're safer without the light, since you won't assume that lack of light means you are safe, when that's not necessarily, or even likely, true. The only way to ensure no one uses the webcam to watch you undress is not to undress in front of the computer while it's powered on (since they can't use your webcam while the power is off--off, not asleep) OR to place a small piece of electrical tape over the webcam lens. Do not rely on the light to reassure you that the camera is not in use; it's not a reliable measure. Computers do not belong in the bedroom anyway because studies show that exposure to LED backlights in the two or three hours before sleep is a major cause of poor sleep, which is a huge health problem leading to accidents, obesity, and lost productivity, to name just a few things. Computers belong in any room EXCEPT the bedroom or bathroom. Electronics and moisture. Recipe for disaster. No error message in the world should make you place your computer in a steamy bathroom.

      • Sean · 1149 days ago

        I'm typing on my MacBook and I most certainly DO have a little green running light next to the webcam. Otherwise, I agree with you completely.

        When I used an external webcam I unplugged it unless I was using it. If I could not be 100% certain that my computer cannot be tampered with I'd have electrical tape over the lens except when I use it. (Yes, I am that paranoid and my security procedures are what some call extreme, but that's how I like it. They work.)

        Given how hard some people work to booby-trap our computer use, the only drawback -- the ONLY drawback -- to extra precautions is that you might have to wait a little while before people realize you were right to be careful.

    • Gkpm · 1233 days ago

      Yes they do

      • spookie · 1233 days ago

        I have 6 Macs in my house right now, from early 2008 through late 2010 models, Macbooks, Macbook Pros and iMacs, and not one has a webcam light. Which models DO have have lights?

    • Roman · 1233 days ago

      Yes they have. But i think, like on a windows PC, thats software turned on. So you could turn on the webcam without turning on the light.

      So you don't know is the webcam is on or not.

  5. spookie · 1233 days ago

    BTW, Graham, THIS headline is exactly the kind of headline that makes me click on a link and if those who write malware had used THIS headline I'd have been clickjacked! Because even I needed to know how you "trick" someone into "taking hacked webcams into showers." Turns out they weren't actually tricked into taking the Macbooks into the actual showers , but into the bathroom.

    • Mark · 1233 days ago

      "Shower" is synonymous in many people's minds with "shower room" and not every shower is in the bathroom (I have a shower in a room of its own and a bathroom).

      • spookie · 1233 days ago

        Doesn't matter. It's the steam from the shower running in that room that damages the electronics. No electronics belong in a room with a shower in it, whatever you call the room. If you regularly bring your phone in the room where your shower is, I'm willing to bet the moisture sensors in it are tripped. Even leaving your cellphone in the same room often causes moisture damage and voids the warranty.

        Also this comment was intended as satire. Nothing would have "tricked me" into clicking on that link if I couldn't be sure it linked back to Sophos. And quite frankly, I don't know anyone who says "shower" when he means "shower room." And I STILL see no reason to take a computer into the room I'm planning on taking a shower in, and my friends will tell you, I take a computer pretty much everywhere. I had one with me at my best friend's wedding, and I had one with me at my mom's funeral. But NEVER in the shower, or the shower room.

        • Mark · 1232 days ago

          Not sure what you're disagreeing with here apart from the semantics about "shower/shower room".

          I was defending the the terms used in the article which don't have to imply people took the laptop literally into the shower as you appeared (to me) to have interpreted.

          I got that you weren't serious.

          Yes, it's an obvious point that steam damages electronics.

  6. Gkpm · 1233 days ago

    "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"

    None of which would have changed anything in this case.

    • spookie · 1233 days ago

      You are correct, with the POSSIBLE exception of the firewall. Only disabling the webcam in hardware, or the simple remedy of placing a piece of electrical tape over the webcam's lens, would stop this. AV, patches, and firewalls are no substitutes for careful web behavior, either.

    • lakawak · 489 days ago

      Wrong...it would not stop soeone from operating the webcam...but it WOULD possibly prevent the virus tht allows them to do so from being installed in the first place.

  7. NotHazard · 1233 days ago

    Wow, I can't believe how low people go in order to see porn. Like hell, the internet is filled with high quality, HD porn. Why would someone want to get off watching something shot with a Macbook webcam? I can understand the thrill of being caught, but when you do it anonymously online it kinda takes away that thrill.

    What I don't understand is that the supposed error message is incredibly vague and direct at the same time. Near hot steam?

    LET'S PUT IT NEAR MY SHOWER, AS I'M SHOWERING, AND I LEAVE THE COMPUTER ON, SCREEN OPEN, FACING ME WHILE I'M SHOWERING.

    Yeah, seems foolish to all of us computer guys, and the car anology a previous poster used is close, but I'd relate it more to fooling someone to put disel in their petrol tank by telling them it "burns better."

    • Anon · 1233 days ago

      I'm sure it's a lot to do with the added thrill of having power over someone, or their lack of awareness, and/or the live element. Not everybody get off on standard porn, HD or not. Regular porn users also often escalate to harder, weirder and more dangerous stuff once they become desensitised and the usual stuff loses its edge which is quite typical behaviour for porn addicts, though not all will lack the conscience to do what this guy did.

      • spookie · 1233 days ago

        "Regular porn users?" Jeez, everyone looks at porn. Only weirdos lie and say they don't. This guy wasn't a "regular [porn user" and what he did wasn't about porn--it was, and is, about power and control, just like rape is. Don't mistake crimes of power and control for crimes that are about sex--the sexual aspect is incidental--it's about control.

        • a guy · 1233 days ago

          You may need to observe a wider group of people, Spookie, unless you're just trying to be a troll. I feel mildly ashamed when consciously glancing at something that resembles porn (usually advertisements), and the thing is, I want to feel ashamed by that, just like I want my hand to hurt if I touch a hot stove. I agree with you regarding the motivation, though. This is a crime of taking enjoyment from violating another person in some way.

        • Anon · 1232 days ago

          Did you even read what I said or where you just too concerned with justifying porn use (off-topic anyway)?

          I said it was to do with power, but that's what some people get a sexual kick out of. Do you think he just sat there feeling powerful while the women took their clothes off in front of the webcam?

  8. Bjørn Froberg · 1233 days ago

    It's a weird, weird world out there.

  9. Dr. Nuccitelli · 1231 days ago

    I received this post from my Google alerts and enjoyed the article.

    My name is Dr. Michael Nuccitelli and I'm a New York State licensed psychologist and certified forensic consultant. My expertise and present research endeavors are investigating theoretical criminology and internet predators.

    Recently I have been focused on my theory coined iPredator. The definition is as follows:

    iPredator™: A person(s) who engages in victimizing others using digital communications technology , telecommunications and the internet. Cyberstalkers, cyberbullies, cyberterrorists, cybercriminals and sexual predators all use "Cyberstealth" afforded by the internet and social media to stalk their prey.

    I've been fortunate to trademark my theoretical framework and now working with the American College of Forensic Examiners College International (ACFEI) to educate the country on developing internet safety, cyber security, and victimization reduction strategies.

    If I can ever be of help, feel free to contact me.

    Regards,
    Dr. Nuccitelli

    Michael Nuccitelli Psy.D., C.F.C.
    NYS Licensed Psychologist
    Email: drnucc@hotmail.com
    Blog: http://darkpsychology.co/
    Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/iPredator
    Facebook: The iPredator

    The iPredator is the new monster cloaked by cyberspace and motivated by malevolence.

  10. anon1111122 · 1123 days ago

    I understand that there are "IPredators" out there, but how does one put electronics in a position that they can get wet? Just use common sense!

  11. Mick A · 233 days ago

    Oops! Just noticed how old this thread is! I feel like Doctor Who now...

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.