Falling Victim

Privacy is something we all value. We close our doors, keep conversations away from people, we sign confidentiality papers, the list goes on. We have freedom, but the real question is, do we? What if I told you that you’re being watched and listened to right now by the camera on your computer? That’s so disturbing to think about, but it can happen to anyone. Our technology comes with cameras that can be hacked and the footage can be used to exploit the lives of innocent people—causing damage that is so hard to repair.

Right now, google ‘Cassidy Wolf’. What you will find is, she’s Miss Teen USA 2013 as well as a victim of ‘sextortion’. Miss Wolf was like any other teenager, on her way to making a name for herself, young, talented and beautiful, but as of March 2013, unfortunately, her world was shaken up and the words ‘victim’ and ‘sextortion’ was being used in the same sentence as her name all over the internet and on televisions everywhere. Sextortion is the practice of obtaining something through force or threats.

Miss Wolf’s laptop was hacked, specifically the camera. She found out that she had been watched for months by a total stranger. It never crossed her mind that someone could be watching and recording her while she’s sleeping, dressing, eating, and all the simple tasks we do at our most vulnerable moments. She was notified by Facebook about being hacked but blackmailed by the hacker followed. He had footage and images of her naked that he could release to the public. She went straight to her parents and the FBI.

As a Digital Media major, I remember when this story made the news. My heart just broke for this girl and I can’t imagine to this day what it would be like to be put in this exposed experience. To be completely honest, I do have moments that I feel watched and it could just be me reacting from news stories like this. I have at times covered up my computer cameras—one never knows. We buy and use technology trusting the system, but trust is such a fragile virtue that can break in an instant in this world we live in.

Wolf is not the only one who’s fallen sextortion victim and not every victim speaks up. News spread that her hacker, unfortunately, according to theU.S. State Attorney’s office for the Central District of California, may have hacked as many as 150 women. Ashamed, distrust, scared, embarrassment, bitterness, the list can go on of the emotions that victims go through whether they are seeking justice or not. Wolf was able to seek help and not give in to the blackmail, but many give in and further damage is done—leading to physical, emotional, or mental issues or even abuse. Bottom line, it can get really messy. A little bit of piece of mind for Wolf came when according to the Daily Mail, Wolf’s hacker was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

As someone who loves technology and computers, I was curious how hackers are going about exposing people’s lives when they have no business doing so whatsoever. I found on CNBC’s website, as of 2014, federal prosecutors announced charges against those using a software program called Blackshades. Hackers are using this program to access cameras, microphones, etc on computers—source of power. I know that was a while ago, but obviously, the FBI is taking action. Today, I can only trust that the cybersecurity community is doing everything they can to shut down hackers, but more importantly, they are spreading awareness, education, and helping one person at a time.

If you or someone you know falls victim to sextortion, please: don’t panic, don’t communicate, don’t pay, and preserve evidence. Most importantly, speak up and get the authorities involved. Remember that you are an overcomer (Isaiah 41:13) and being a victim doesn’t define you. For those of us who have been fortunate to not experience sextortion, we need to continue to educate ourselves, sympathize with victims, and pray for them.