17-year-old arrested for hacking into phones, stealing and distributing explicit images of children

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order, Malware, Mobile, Twitter

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A US teenager has been charged with distributing child pornography he allegedly hacked out of minors' cellphones with a bogus mobile text ad that installed phone-controlling malware.

Michael William Cook, 17, of Acworth, Georgia, was arrested on March 13 on eight counts of cruelty to children and one count of sexually exploiting children.

Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce told news outlets that Cook was arrested the previous Wednesday while at school.

Police accused Cook of posting photos of his victims to a child pornography website between November 2012 and January 2013.

According to 9News.com, Sgt. Pierce claimed that Cook sent text messages to victims from a company called "Maxi Focus Photography".

When victims clicked on a link in the text message, it installed malware that essentially gave Cook access to all information stored on the phones.

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That includes access to victims' accounts on social network sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as sexually explicit photos stored on the phones.

Cook allegedly downloaded offensive pictures and sent them to pornographic websites, Pierce said.

Police seized Cook's computer from his home in order to search for more photos and, potentially, more victims.

Police as of March 18 knew of eight victims, the youngest of whom is 14 years old.

Unfortunately, as Sgt. Pierce told a 9News.com reporter, even if police find all the victims, it will be difficult to figure out who they are:

"The problem we're going to have is, with those images, to be able to identify positively the victim."

Police are asking anyone who's corresponded with Maxi Focus Photography to call the Cobb County Police Department's Crimes Against Children Unit at (770) 801-3470.

Clicking on unexpected links, whether they come to our cellphones or our inboxes, is always risky behavior.

But so is the simple act of snapping a naked photo in digital form on a device that's connected to the internet.

When children do it, they put themselves at risk of unintended exposure, humiliation or serious bullying that could end tragically.

If the charges against Cook prove well-founded, this case is, unfortunately, just one more example that parents can point to while they try to steer their children away from such risky behavior.

Parents, please speak to your kids about the risks involved and encourage them to stay safe online with these tips.

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14 Responses to 17-year-old arrested for hacking into phones, stealing and distributing explicit images of children

  1. Please tell me why are children snapping explicit photos of themselves???? Parent's should check their minor children's phones once in a while, I'm sure the parent is the one paying the bill.

    • Brenda · 918 days ago

      Kids are snapping explicit photos for many reason, but one of the biggies is for the same reason adults do it. SEX.

      They are sexually active in part because puberty is occurring earlier and earlier.

      I have read reports blaming everything from improved maternal health to hormones on food products to simple evolution of genes. All I know is my 30 something kids and friends didn't care about dating or attraction to others in a sexual sense until they were at the end of junior high - 8th grade. My twenty something kids and friends were starting to tie up the family phone over infatuations in 6th grade.

      I now have an exstep who is 12 and a step who is 9 1/2. Both have had boy/girlfriends and we parents have gone thru hell to make sure it stays somewhere above the puppy love stage (which now occurs as young as 5) but below the actual kissing stage. Many parents who are involved and committed try real hard to do that, and as a popular TV show recently had for a line "If you block the front door, they just go all Romeo and Juliet on you."

      Here in the states of New England, USA the problem times are the preteen and early teen years and junior high. That is when the pregnancies happen, that is when you find girls giving oral sex to buys in the back of the bus while several phones record, that is when many have gone from sneaking a sip of alcohol to routinely trying to drink, smoke weed, and especially to help themselves to Dad or Grandma's pills.

      In my state, New Hampshire, it is aggravated by an very low level of abstinence only education that does nothing to counteract the music, movies, TV shows, and just plain old raging hormones these kids have. Between that, a refusal in many school districts to let school nurses supply condoms in middle school, and many towns saying "No, all our gay people know what to do" every time an AIDS/HIV agency wants to open an office we have astronomical levels of sexual diseases and a coming epidemic of HIV+ young adults who only learn their status when they go for a blood test to get married or have their first adult physical. One of the fastest growing STD's is Oral Gonorrhea.

      I have seen situations where kids as young as 8 are developing pubic hair, breasts, and the beginning of underarm hair - and it is not just African Americans, although they often go through puberty anywhere from 6 months to a year before other races. One of my exsteps had a D sized rack at 11, started her period the same year, and was frequently asked out by men in their 20's who honestly thought she was 16. One of my kids was so adult developed and adult looking that at 13 she was getting invitations to bar hop with college kids.

      So now you have kids who look older than they are, having crushes that turn into love affairs, and they see tons of adults - from politicians to parents - snapping pics of themselves to send as a flirty invite to a boy/girlfriend, and so they do the same.

      You also have bullies who coerce kids into posing for pics, parents and other adults who are sleeping with the kids and take pics, and kids who get high or drunk and foolishly go off and take pics.

      There is no one size fits all answer. A single parent of three preteens and teens may need each to have a phone with gps tracking, talk, and text because she has to work until 5pm and works an hour or more away from her home, and it is the only way she has to keep track of which one is at soccer, which one is at ballet, and which one is supposed to be at home but is actually down the street IN the street. well, a cheap 4 line cell account is probably the best that can be had.

    • Brenda · 918 days ago

      It will simmply get worse until this country gets serious about:
      * lengthening the school day to match the average workday,
      * taxes enough to provide after school care that is safe, decent and affordable,
      * gets after absent parents who DO have the money to pay up past due child support -
      * pushing "Stay at home" Moms to spend less time reading the bible, watching The View, and texting HER friends, and provide structure and activities that the young couples can do together that are supervised, fun, and safe.
      * create structured activities that young couples can do together that are supervised, fun, and safe
      * Increase Laws and regulations, restraining orders and call centers to expanded the nonprofit's world's efforts reach out to those parents who know the partner in their life is committing incest.
      *School buses need to have a live person monitor walking up and down that walkway between the seats the entire bus trip.

      Society, that is all of us, need to get our heads out of the sand that puppy love happens in kindergarten and first grade, and not too long after that the kids are vulnerable to being taken advantage of, looking for love, and going from first kiss to home run a whole lot quicker. We have to acknowledge that by age 13, many kids are experts at technology that can be used to do what this 17 year old did.

      We need as a society to take a cue from the Occupy movement and start changing the way we live, start teaching our kids it is NOT all about the Benjamins, and start SHUTTING DOWN corporations that only look out for the profit they make instead of the contribution they make to that child's future. Simply resurrecting some of the old regulations on radio "clean edit" songs being ok from 5 to 11pm, but from 6am to 5pm they have to be cleaned down to a G rating is a start. Developing a lockout system for the millions of families who can't afford the fancy flat screen TV's would be another. There are a thousand things that CAN be done.

      There just isn't the will. Walmart would rather rake in profits selling bras and panties to 8 year-olds that look like they came form Victoria Secret, and Americans just don't want to pay taxes - especially RICH ones, and too many adults are too busy taking racy pics of themselves to send off to lovers to pay attention.

      • 50 · 540 days ago

        Ok we have a big problem in society, so lets give the government more power to abuse us with. that sounds like a great idea.

  2. If parents did their jobs, this kind of thing would be a non-issue.

    • Foo Bar · 924 days ago

      Leibowitz: yes, right. Because back in the Good Old Days®, teenagers NEVER did anything that their parents didn't allow. And parents were able to monitor their children 24-7.

      Did you know that Pyramus & Thisbe (and its later imitators) used to be considered part of the horror genre, not romance? Back in the Good Old Days®.

  3. Adam · 926 days ago

    All teenagers should read this article and think hard about what it implies.

    "The Web Means the End of Forgetting"


  4. Randy · 926 days ago

    "Michael William Cook, 17, of Acworth, Georgia, was arrested on March 13 on eight counts of cruelty to children and one count of sexually exploiting children."

    There are plenty of charges to go around here. The "victims" need to have their phones checked by police. If the offending images are found then they need to be charged with producing child pornography. Although they didn't intend for their pictures to be distributed, they did produce them in the first place and they need to face charges for that.

    • Chuck · 923 days ago

      What a sick suggestion. So maybe we should start arresting teenage boys who get caught masturbating and charge them with child molestation.

  5. Freida Gray · 925 days ago

    I wonder if this kid thought that since he was 17 he couldn't be charged with child pornography /

  6. Roger · 925 days ago

    Brenda Langbein is 100% correct. Far too many parents abrogate their responsibilities and give their children free rein to do whatever they wish on-line instead of monitoring their computer behaviour, discreetly or otherwise. It's the new equivalent of "Go and play" and "I'm busy; go and watch TV".

  7. jamie · 925 days ago

    i think these laws should be different if it is a 14 year old taking a picture of another 14 year old --- do not think law makers was thinking of 2 kids when making the laws -- really is intended for like a 50 year old taking pictures of a 12 year old -- yes punish them but not in the traditional pedophile way

    • Chuck · 923 days ago

      @Jamie. You are right. To treat a guy who takes a picture of friends his own age like you would a 50 yr old pedo is sick and twisted beyond belief. I think we need to step back and take a rational look at this and decide who the real criminals are.....the kids or the prosecutors.

  8. niveusluna · 924 days ago

    People should just follow Graham Cluley's guide to not getting in this kind of trouble: "Must not take any nude photos of myself today."


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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.