India, a country that is one of the world’s biggest contributors and consumers of child abuse content, is now also the fifth largest sender of sextortion scam emails, according to researchers from the British cybersecurity firm Sophos. They traced the origin of millions of sextortion spam emails sent between September 2019 and February 2020 to conclude that India is the fifth largest sender of sextortion scam emails and the source of 3.73 percent of all sextortion emails. Vietnam tops this list with 7.01 percent of all sextortion emails, followed by Brazil, Argentina and Korea respectively.
Sextortion is a widely used form of online spam attack where cybercriminals extort money by claiming to have the receiver’s compromising pictures or evidence of their sexual activity. The attackers claim in their emails that they’ve taken screenshots of you looking at a porn site or have a compromising video recorded from your webcam, says Paul Duckling, Principal Research Scientist, Sophos, on his blog Naked Security, but, in reality, the video doesn’t exist and the whole thing is a scam to prey on your fears.
The transaction is conducted primarily in bitcoins. “The scamsters say that they have put the screenshots and the webcam footage side-by-side to create an embarrassing video that they’re going to send to your friends and family…unless you pay them blackmail money, usually somewhere from $1,500 to $4,000, paid in bitcoins to a BTC address that the crooks provide in the email,” adds Duckling. In fact, a SophosLabs’ investigation published in April shows that cyber criminals have made almost half a million US dollars in profits between September 2019 and January 2020 through sextortion campaigns. In a report, Sophos Labs researchers tracked the flow of the money to find that the extorted funds were used in other illicit activities such as buying stolen credit card data or contraband stuff from dark web marketplaces.
Cybercriminals are now also taking advantage of the coronavirus situation to target people around the world, with a surge in sextortion emails over the last few weeks. Given that many people are isolated at home due to coronavirus, scammers see this as an easy opportunity. They are even using the coronavirus pandemic for extortion by claiming to infect the receiver’s family with coronavirus if they don’t pay the ransom money. “During COVID -19, cybercriminals are on alert for vulnerable users, they will target anyone. There are no new lows that cybercriminals won’t stoop to,” Counterpoint Technology research analyst, Satyajit Sinha, told The Indian Express . “Having many employees suddenly working remotely is a major challenge for an organisation and presents numerous cybersecurity issues. Further, more people are online now with more unsecured devices.”
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