A man who may have coerced as many as 350 women to strip for him via webcam has been arrested by the FBI on federal computer-hacking charges.
According to federal authorities, Karen "Gary" Kazaryan, 27, of Glendale, Calif., broke into email, Skype and Facebook accounts.
He then searched for and stole risqué private photos and other information and changed users' passwords, a Department of Justice statement said.
The statement also said Kazaryn masqueraded as friends of his victims, pretending to be a woman and persuading them to remove their clothes while connected via Skype video chat.
If a victim refused, Kazaryan would allegedly blackmail her into compliance by threatening to post the stolen risqué images online — a classic example of "sextortion."
Don't make it easy for the next one
The DOJ press release says Kazaryan "gained unauthorized access to — in other words, hacked into — the victims' accounts."
Given the loose definition of hacking under federal criminal code, this could mean Kazaryan simply guessed or reset their passwords.
That's easy to do when people post personal details on their Facebook pages that are answers to identity-challenge questions such as "What was your mother's maiden name?"
The press release said Kazaryan has been indicted on 15 counts of computer intrusion and 15 counts of aggravated identity theft.
If convicted, he faces up to 105 years in federal prison.
Digital invasion of privacy
There have been many incidents of hackers using webcams to spy on victims.
Last year, several computer-rental companies were caught using webcam images to extort past-due payments from customers.
In 2010, a Santa Ana, Calif., man was busted for a webcam-sextortion scheme similar to Kazaryan's.
The following year, a Fullerton, Calif., computer technician was caught putting spyware on women's Apple laptops, then persuading the women to take the laptops into the bathroom while they took showers.
Webcam users can best protect themselves from spyware by making sure they're behind a secure firewall and using anti-virus software that won't allow an attacker to clandestinely turn on a user's webcam.
A lower-tech solution is to simply put black tape over your computer's webcam when you're not using it.
It's also important to remember that not everyone online is always whom they seem to be.
A message that appears to come from a trusted friend could really be from a creep trying to glean information or images that you normally wouldn't give up to strangers.