A new internet scam is doing the rounds, and just about everyone knows someone who has received the dreaded email. It lands in your inbox, telling you that a hacker has installed spyware on your computer and has a video recording of you watching porn. You are told to pay a ransom in bitcoin (so it can’t be traced). If you don’t, the sender says, they will send the video to everyone in your contacts list. Sometimes, the email even contains some specific information, like a password you’ve once used, as “evidence” that your computer has been hacked.
It’s called “scareware”. Basically, the sender is trying to scare you into handing over money to protect yourself from humiliation. Even if you haven’t been watching porn, the suggestion of a security breach is frightening. The email is very widely distributed and there are always some people who are scared enough to pay.
We spoke to an internet security expert to find out exactly how at risk you are, and what you should do if you receive one of these emails.
it’s highly unlikely that the sender will be able to make good on any of their threats
Marthin van den Heever, senior support manager at security solutions company Syntelo, says that you should know that this particular email is a scam, and it’s highly unlikely that the sender will be able to make good on any of their threats. However, he says that there are certain IT security steps that you should take to make sure you are always protected.
Never click on a link in a suspicious emailThe scare mail outlined above is just one example. There are always people looking for a way to breach security or scam you out of money. If you do receive a strange email like this, try googling some relevant keywords from the email plus the words “hoax” or “scam”.
Marthin’s advice is to never click on a link in an email from someone you don’t know. Even if the email is from someone you do know, but no credible reason is given for the link to be sent, or the language isn’t how your friend usually writes, do not click on it without verifying it first.
“That’s just good email security always,” says Marthin. “This porn scam email might encourage you to click on a link, which would then theoretically make it possible for software to be loaded onto your computer, take a short snippet of you looking at your screen, and send it back to you as ‘evidence’ that it has a recording.”
While he says that most of these kinds of emails are just outright scams, this next step is a possibility, so always be on your guard.
Consider covering your computer’s webcamMany people today keep their webcam covered so that hackers can’t gain access to images of you. While for many, this is an extreme level of protection, Marthin says you can do it if it will give you peace of mind.
“Some laptops being sold today even come with a camera slider so you can close the webcam, but even if you don’t have such a thing, you can just put tape over the lens,” he says.
Change your passwordsIf you receive the email and it contains a password that you have used in the past, this does not mean your system has been hacked. Marthin explains that there have been a few high-profile releases of passwords on the internet, and the passwords in these hoax mails are almost certainly harvested from those lists, and not from anything happening on your computer right now.
Obviously, if you still use the same password and it’s out there somewhere, you should change it immediately, but don’t believe the ‘evidence’ of the hack.
Install internet security softwareYou should have internet security software like Norton installed on your computer as a matter of course. Marthin says that the paid-for software will generally pick up the signature of any malware on incoming emails and block them. “This means that any email that contained software that could record you would never actually arrive in your inbox,” he explains. “The scanners can also pick up malware that may have already been installed on your machine, so if you think you may have clicked on a dangerous link, run a scan.”
While the porn scam emails are generally hoaxes with no malware attached, internet security software will also block other types of dangerous emails – like the famous Wannacry worm, which actually does encrypt your data and demand a ransom to unencrypt it.
And although this doesn’t apply to the porn email hoax, Marthin says you should also always have off-site, encrypted backups of your important data, because you never know what the next bit of malware is going to be able to do.
Stay safe onlineWhile this particular email scam is most likely to be a hoax, there are lots of risks and threats out there in cyberspace.
It’s important to stay educated, be suspicious and have the correct security measures in place to make sure that you aren’t afflicted with the next virus, worm or other malware doing the rounds.