Fate of webcam spies show courts take hacking seriously when nudity and showers are involved

.mil and .gov sites get hacked regularly, but courts crack down on domestic cyber-spies

Before even mentioning the story about a California man convicted two weeks ago for spying on women using their own webcams I have to say the best thing about the story is not that it's the second such incident this summer or that the page on which I found it had a link at the bottom to a how-to story with the title Track Cheating Spouse With Phone Spying Software.

The important thing about the story is that it shows hackers are sometimes interested in things more creepy than money or political protest.

OK, I have that backward. The real cause/effect chain, I think, is that hacking tools and techniques have become so common and easy to use that even creeps who spend more time on porn sites than hacker forums can use them.

And, of course, that normal people have come to depend so heavily on their computers they don't understand that they have to depend on the ethics of repair techs whose work they can't check, making them ideal victims even for mouth breathers like these two shining examples of the technocracy.

The more egregious example is photography buff Luis Mijangos – a 32-year-old Sana Ana, Calif. man convicted of hacking into the computers of more than 100 women and teenage girls – who admitted taking nude or compromising pictures of his victims, took pictures secretly using their webcams or pretended in email or instant-messaging to be a boyfriend trying to persuade them so send nude pictures of themselves to him.

In extreme cases he threatened so send the secret photos and videos to their families and friends (whose contact information he also stole) if they didn't send him nude photos of themselves.

In one case he actually did post nude photos on the MySpace page of a 35-year-old woman identified only as G.M in court documents.

Mijangos – a Mexican citizen confined to a wheelchair since he was struck by gunfire in a drive-by shooting when he was a teenager – pleaded guilty to computer hacking and wiretapping in March.

Probation officers recommended a two-year sentence; prosecutors asked for seven. The maximum sentence is 10 years.

"Society has to understand that if you engage in this type of behavior, it's no joke. You are going to jail and going to jail for a long time," according to an explanation of the sentence from U.S. District Judge George King, according to the Associated Press.

King disregarded arguments from defense attorneys that Mijangos should get a short sentence because he only used the malware and photos; he didn't create them.

Where Mijango got the tools didn’t matter, the judge decided.

The dedication, sophistication and perversion of the computer skills Mijango could have used for more positive pursuits rather than a "personal crime wave" made the offense greater, King said, calling Mijango's "personal crime wave" a form of "cyber-terrorism."

The sentence and commentary don't bode well for Southern California computer repair tech who was arrested in June for allegedly giving himself access to clients' webcams, then tricking them into bringing the cams into the bathroom while they showered so he could be sure of getting nude photos.

Trevor Harwell, a 20-year-old former student at La Mirada Christian college was a repair tech for SOHO-sales-and-repair firm Rezitech Inc., is charged with 12 felony counts of computer access and fraud for allegedly installing spyware on clients' computers that gave him access to the machines and control of the webcams.

A Rezitech spokesman said the company cut off Harwell's access to its systems immediately after learning of the accusations and is cooperating with the investigation.

Police said Harwell used the webcams to spy on victims and prompt some that remained stubbornly clothed by sending fake error messages telling users to "fix internal sensors" by "putting your laptop near hot steam for several minutes to clean the sensor," according to the AP's summary of police reports.

The error message prompted several of the victims to take the computers into the bathroom while they showered.

Police said they took "hundreds of thousands" of secretly taken still and video images from Harwell's home computer, where the files ended up after being routed through a remote server that provided a little distance between Harwell and the scene of the crime.

Judging by the $50,000 bond on which he was released – which is high for a non-violent crime – and Mijango's six-year sentence, Harwell is facing a hard prosecution and the prospect of a long stay within the California penal system.

"It goes to the core fears a lot of people have," according to an ABCNews.com story quoting Sgt. Andrew Goodrich of the Fullerton Police Department. "It's every fear that you're really not alone, that someone is watching your private moments."

Doesn't that make you feel better that Anonymous and WikiLeaks like to steal information from secretive government agencies and giant, faceless corporations you wouldn't want nude photos of even if you could get them rather than taking more interest in individual computer users?

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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