Man who tricked women into taking hacked webcams into shower is jailed

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

Shower. Image from ShutterstockFor a long time perverts and cyberstalkers have been getting kicks out of secretly snooping on female victims via webcams.

There's clearly a type of man (sorry for being sexist, but all the examples I have found online have male culprits) who gets a thrill out of secretly spying on young women in their bedrooms.

In the most harrowing cases young women are actually blackmailed into posing naked by hackers threatening to distribute compromising photos.

Pretty sick stuff.

Which brings us to 21-year-old Trevor Harwell, of Fullerton, California, who has just been jailed after he installed spyware onto victims' laptops, and displayed a bogus error message to increase the chances of capturing nude pictures and movies.

And what was the error message?

"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."

As we reported last year, Harwell's scheme successfully tricked a number of young women into taking their laptops into their bathroom while taking a steamy shower.

Thousands of secretly taken taken still images, videos and cellphone videos were found on Harwell's computer, who had plenty of opportunity to install the spying software onto his prospective victims' computers, because he worked part time as a "friendly" computer repairman.

Press release

Of course, there was nothing to prevent a snooped-upon victim being under-age.

It's true for 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.

Harwell was sentenced to one year in the Anaheim City Jail, five years of formal probation, and has been ordered to complete a Sex Offender Treatment program.

You can make up your own joke about how he better be careful in the jail's showers...

Woman in shower image from Shutterstock.

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35 Responses to Man who tricked women into taking hacked webcams into shower is jailed

  1. How did they end up catching this guy?

    • His victims included two sisters, who noticed that their webcam light kept turning on and off without explanation.

      They took their laptop to *another* repair store, which discovered the secretly-installed spyware.

      • Thanks Graham. That's right, I'm pretty sure I remember reading that the webcam cannot be activated without the green light turning on as it is designed to do so in hardware, not software. Don't quote me on that though.

  2. crashbox · 827 days ago

    I would throw away the key on this guy. Talk about perversion!

  3. I'm not saying what he did is right (it wasn't) but if people are stupid enough to fall for that then at least some of the blame needs to be laid on the 'victims' too.

    • flr666 · 826 days ago

      I agree you have to be stupid to fall for this trick but I do not agree that ppl with limited mental capacity are to blame for their own sexual exploitation/abuse.

    • Tim · 825 days ago

      Not everyone is mechanically inclined or cautious enough to check the computer for a repaired job when they have someone to repair the computer. Now, I'll ask you a question are you smarter then rest of us?

    • Kdriver · 824 days ago

      These are some stupid women!

  4. Marc Cain · 826 days ago

    I usually applaud your articles how're this one is just to moralistic, maybe the reason you can only find data on male perverts is because that's the way the data is skewed. We all have a responsibility to ourselves so how about people being serious, when would windows or MAC ever send a message like that and what part of sensitive IT equipment ever needed hot steam? More fool those who actually believed it. Yes it's wrong that he did it but can your readers not be trusted to complete their own moral values when reading your article.

  5. I wish I knew how to ensure that a built-in webcam was turned off. Here are some ideas: 1) Cover it with something opaque like a piece of cloth or paper 2) On Windows, disable it in Device Manager 3) On Mac OS X, there seems to be no supported way in the OS to disable the iSight webcam. (Yes you can find iSight Disabler as a free download but that's not part of the as-delivered OS.)

    • Anonymous · 826 days ago

      It's not save unless you've disabled the hardware, not the software.
      He can control the software part, so he could access the Windows Device Manager and turn the cam on again.

    • Easy (and thorough) way to disable the iSight on a Mac:

      1) Compress (in case you want to re-enable later) and then drag these to files to the trash:

      /System/Library/Extensions/Apple_iSight.kext
      /Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/HAL/iSightAudio.driver

      The second one disables the iSight's microphone interface. Don't compress and trash it if you still want to use the microphone.

      2) Reboot :)

    • Dave · 826 days ago

      Another safeguard - don't be so gullible. Can't believe how stupid some people can be - they deserve to be perved if they are that dumb,

    • Wyldeman · 826 days ago

      My Dad just covers the Webcam on his Laptop with a Band-aid when he isn't using it...

  6. @StargazersWorld · 826 days ago

    Was that lame rape joke at the end of the article really necessary?

    • Dave · 826 days ago

      No , not strictly necessary- but I would still be careful in the showers if I was him.

    • Ginger Mayerson · 826 days ago

      That was my thought, too. It kind of undermined the whole article for me.

    • Wizzy · 826 days ago

      that comment was not only lame, it was inappropriate in this day and age and sustains stereotyping.

    • Julie · 825 days ago

      stop being so sensitive everyone has to be so politically correct these days.

      • Wizzy · 813 days ago

        sorry. i don't think the bend over and pick up the soap joke is funny at all. it's a relic of a by-gone age and needs to be retired for good.

  7. greylines · 826 days ago

    And kudos for their observation, often the first sign something is wrong with your computer (innocent bug or malware) is when you *see* something not right.

  8. Quinsha · 826 days ago

    I would have used my teapot to make the steam....nice view of a teapot? AND I still would have been angry to find out that it was some hacker sending that message.

  9. Forensic Guy · 826 days ago

    Stick a band aid over the camera until ready to use. Some scandal will break out eventually that the authorities or "press" are using the computer camera for, well whatever reason.

  10. Paul · 826 days ago

    Actually its a problem with our societal attitudes. If everyone were free to walk round naked - say, like Steve Gough - then there wouldn't be the same hormonal pressure on young men to spy on naked young women.

    • Lisa Vaas · 826 days ago

      Ah, I see, it's "society attitudes" that are to blame, not a lack of ethics or decency. If there were only enough visuals of naked women, guys like this wouldn't be suffering from the "hormonal pressure" they now endure. Gee, too bad our oppressive society doesn't offer images of naked women—say, in glossy magazines, or perhaps even free, on the Internet. You raise such a legitimate point, Paul, and I'm so glad you pointed out how awful it is that people wear clothes. I would suggest that one step you might take to ameliorate the problem is to take over the guardianship of incarcerated sexual offenders. Bring them into your home, where they will be free from oppression, able to witness your clothes-free lifestyle. Best of luck: I do hope you don't get overly moistened by the release of hormonal pressure.

  11. Stevey · 826 days ago

    There's clearly a type of man (sorry for being sexist, but all the examples I have found online have been male culprits) that enjoys taking a moral tone about sex offenders, whilst including pictures of naked/semi-naked women in the article

  12. George · 826 days ago

    Writers of fiction use their imagination to create sometimes bizarre scenarios in construction of a good story. No contemporary fiction writer could ever use such a scenario as this re the computer in the shower as nobody could suspend their belief long enough to accept it in a novel. On the other hand, as confidence tricksters around the world know, suckers are everywhere just waiting to be made a foll of.

  13. It's True · 826 days ago

    My Asus has a physical shutter which closes the cam and you simply push and it opens.

  14. Hugo · 826 days ago

    Nobody is born knowing about everything.
    And in technology it's too easy to mislead naive people into doing wrong.
    Of course it's obvious that these girls were extremely naive, and I'm not talking about their mental capabilities, as someone commented about. Just plain naivety. My daughter would have asked. Perhaps these girls had nobody to ask about, who could advise them properly.
    It's not laughable at all these girls falling for this cheap trick, I wouldn't call them "limited" in their mental capabilities. This annoys me much more than the final joke about jail shower.

  15. pmshah · 826 days ago

    I think I have a better idea. The manufacturers of the laptops can have a slot - similar to say a usb socket in which one can simply plugin a webcam - with tilt and twist, One could then simply remove it when not required.

  16. Chris y · 825 days ago

    That error message is obviously bogus to many people but i dont think its fair to put the blame on the victims. Some are silly, some have a life where things get sorted out for them & some are to young & inexperienced to know better. Glad to see he got jail time.

  17. Lester · 825 days ago

    This guy is deservedly in jail now, but the article at least implies a couple ideas which I feel are incorrect. The statement that "There's clearly a type of man who gets a thrill out of secretly spying on young women in their bedrooms" implies that there's something unusual or wrong with that feeling itself. There isn't. What's wrong is actually pursuing the spying.

    Second, near the end of the article is the statement that "there was nothing to prevent a snooped-upon victim being under-age". Yes, there was. The miscreant personally and individually selected his targets and thus, if he wished, could avoid under-age women. Still a scumbag!

  18. andrew · 825 days ago

    Not a good joke about the showers. This is rape you are joking about. Not as bad as Gene Simmons' wishing this on copyright infringers, but still bad. The US needs to clean up its prisons.

  19. Aud · 825 days ago

    This is why I always unplug my webcam after using it.

  20. Terry Cloth · 797 days ago

    @Bob Stromberg: That's why, when my daughter was buying a laptop, I strongly urged her not to get the built-in camera. The plugin webcams are fine, if faintly less convenient.

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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.