Extortion and blackmail are two topics and crimes that have come up when I began to research surveillance issues upon learning about surveillance in our ‘Digital Communication and Culture’ class and how web users can be coerced and exploited due to surveillance online. According to an article titled ‘The Differences Between Extortion and Blackmail’ written by a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney and published by the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Blog extortion is the “use of coercion to obtain money, goods, or serviced from an individual.” This could take place when there is any kind of violence involved. Blackmail according to the same blog can be defined as “obtaining money, goods, or services from an individual through the threat of revealing embarrassing, incriminating, or socially damaging information.”
According to an article titled ‘What is Internet Surveillance and How to Avoid It’’ internet surveillance ‘refers to your computer and online activity, online and offline data, and Internet traffic being monitored and logged by government agencies, ISPs, and- potentially- cybercriminals’. Lyon offers a different definition of surveillance saying it’s the ‘focused systematic and routine attention to personal details for purposes of influence, management, protection or direction’. How we spend every day and every hour online is monitored constantly, and our data is collected and stored to make a profile of us. This data that is supposed to be confidential is usually abused by people called hackers. These hackers easily gain access into our computers, may be able to access our webcams, any passwords, files, even bank account details. Usually, these hackers do all this in order to blackmail people, steal identities or sell personal data on the deep web.
Blackmail and extortion are one of the most coercive forms of exploitation and terrorization because people’s private information and content is being threatened for release, in exchange for money. According to the FBI’s latest Internet Crime Report, people from the US that have been victims of extortion lost about $107.5 million to such crimes last year. One example of extortion is ransomware where a device becomes infested by ransomware where hackers have users click on a malicious link in an email or on social media. When this link is pressed, it usually encrypts files and locks users out from their devices until they pay the ransom. Some hackers use a form of doxing where they inspect your files and search for sensitive information, which may be used to threaten the users with for an amount of money in return.
Another example of extortion is hack and extort which is when a hacker goes through your files looking for sensitive and valuable data and steals it. It’s different from ransomware because in this case the hackers hack your device manually and may have to invest time and resources in order to do this. However, like ransomware the individual that is hacked receives an email where the hackers try to coerce them by threating to expose the information in exchange for money.
The third example of extortion online is called sextortion, and this is when hackers threaten to expose sexual material that belong to an individual. Some hackers start off by trying to fool people on dating platforms, try to gain someone’s trust and then telling them to change platforms and to chat on another platform. Once they are off the dating platforms, in which have security mechanisms that detect potential scammers, they try to get the individual to share intimate photos or videos in which they later use to blackmail them. Another way they use to sextort someone is to simply hack into someone’s computer and either hijack their webcam and secretly watch or gather intimate photos and videos from the computer’s files. According to the UK’s National Crime Agency, there’s been an increase in reports of sextortion. ‘The NCA received 1,484 reports of sextortion- or cyber-enabled blackmail with a financial motive- in the whole of 2018, as well as a further 241 without any financial motive.’
According to an article titled ‘Miss Teen USA says Someone Hacked Her Bedroom Computer Webcam’ in 2013, Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf was a victim of a sextortion crime. She said someone hacked into her webcam and recorded her in her bedroom, in an attempt to extort nude photographs of her. The 19-year-old received an email from an anonymous person where he claimed to have images of her from her webcam and he threated to share these photos, unless she provided him with nude pictures of herself. Thankfully, she went to the authorities and reported the harassment she underwent. This is what every single person should do if they are threated to be exposed and extorted like that.
Blackmail and extortion are a dangerous part of the online world and this is all due to internet surveillance since it’s giving way to hackers into private information and data. The online world should be made more trustworthy and should eliminate all the things that make it corrupted. Coercion and extortion are highly present in the internet and especially social media as our social media accounts give easier access for hackers to access our accounts, and blackmail us with private information and photographs. There should be an end to extortion and blackmail on the web and surveillance should be highly limited as a whole.