Sextortion is a fairly new word. Much like ‘selfies’ and ‘memes’ sextortion is an addition to the English language because of the growth of technology. But unlike a self-portrait of a ‘duckface’ or an ill-pronounced word depicting pictorial humor, sextortion is far more nefarious, and not in the least bit funny.
Sexual extortion involves withholding sensitive information of scores of people in compromising positions, threatening to make it public if a ransom is not paid. While the modus operandi of the crime is traditional, the mode of payment is not. Criminals in the sextortion racket prefer one form of payment and one form of payment only – Bitcoin.
Classified under ‘Blackmail’ scams, because of the medium employed, a report by Chainalysis, classified it as the sixth most potent cryptocurrency scam, based on average transfer size, behind fraudulent coin offerings, phishing scams and ponzi schemes.
The report further highlighted that sextortion in the cryptocurrency world had a “low success rate,” given the low number of successful payments to the high number of scams sent.
Researchers at Cornell who studied sextortion campaigns for almost a year concluded that “one single entity,” is controlling the “the majority of the sextortion campaigns,” which generated a whopping $1.3 million in stolen Bitcoin. Their conclusion sounded alarm bells for the cryptocurrency community at large,
“We conclude that sextortion spamming is a lucrative business and spammers will likely continue to send bulk emails that try to extort money through cryptocurrencies.”
Further, the Chainalysis report, looking at the sextortion scams from the perspective of ‘spam campaigns’ stated that sextortion is “one of the most profitable,” given the low infrastructural cost to the payout possibility.
Deeper than it looks
From September 2019 to January 2020, Sophos a software security firm produced a report detailing how criminals use spam messages in these sextortion campaigns and funnel millions from victims.
While sextortion can be categorized as spams, its proportion varies. The report stated that for the entire period of study only 4.23 percent of all spam emails can be attributed to sextortion, but on certain days, the proportion jumped to 20 percent. The sextortion email traffic increased during autumn and peaked in the winter months. Between 24 to 26 December, there was an isolated spike, with the report stating that the scammers “prefer to send their messages [sextortion emails] when their targets might not be at work.”
The source of the emails was spread out, as the scammers used botnets from “compromised personal computers,” to email targets. Surprisingly, Vietnam had the highest single share at 7 percent of total routing. Sophos noted that the messaging was…