Stop what you're doing right now and peer into your webcam. Is the little green light on? If so, smile! You're on hacker camera.
If indeed you notice that little green light flickering when it's not supposed to, there's a good chance you have bigger problems on your hands than a rogue webcam. The popularity of Remote Administration Tool (RAT) software is on the rise, according to a new Ars Technica report, and it's getting pretty sophisticated. RAT software can find its way onto your hard drive through an email attachment or a corrupted torrent, and some of the tools enable hackers to tinker with everything from your contacts to your system files.
One of these tools is called DarkComet, which features the "Fun Manager," a dashboard that lets hackers mess with unsuspecting users' minds by hiding the Windows task bar or Start button, sending them a message, or even playing a random piano melody. These features are pretty banal compared to more basic but potentially more destructive abilities the program offers, like keystrokes logging and hijacking a computer for DDoS attacks. You might already be a hacker, and you don't even know it!
But the cam thing is still immediately disturbing for obvious reasons. There are hackers watching thousands and thousands of unsuspecting girls and boys all over the world. Nate Anderson from Ars explains how easy it is for someone to install software like DarkComet or the Blackshades, the same software that the Syrian government uses to spy on rebels, and start pwning strangers' webcams. There's even a handbook that teaches you all the basics for just $20 and suggests that you can break into between 500 and 3,000 computers a day. Anderson writes:
RAT operators have nearly complete control over the computers they infect; they can (and do) browse people's private pictures in search of erotic images to share with each other online. They even have strategies for watching where women store the photos most likely to be compromising. … Women who have this done to them, especially when the spying escalates into blackmail, report feeling paranoia.
Anderson wrote about these so-called "sextortionists" a couple of years ago and told a chilling story of one paraplegic, undocumented immigrant who targeted 230 victims, 44 of whom were minors, before being caught by the feds. This hacker would break into the unsuspecting victims' computers, gather up a bunch of information that could be used for blackmail — everything from naked pictures to credit card numbers — and demand they perform sex acts on camera in order to avoid the information being leaked. Said hacker was eventually convicted of felony extortion and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Whether forced to strip or robbed of confidential financial information, these victims are known by their attackers as "slaves." The term applies both the user and her computer, because even if nobody's logged in, a hacker just needs an Internet connection to break in and start snooping around a slave's computer.
If the slave's typed in bank information in the past, the hacker can log into her account and transfer money out. He can find names and addresses of friends or exes and use that information for sextortionist purposes. Or, he can just watch. He can watch the girls type. He can watch them get undressed in the background. And he can watch them react in dismay as he starts unleashing the capabilities of RAT software. Watch this poor girl feeding her baby freak out when he computer starts randomly loading porn websites:
As with all things hacker-related, this little RAT problem is not going to go away. Threads at places like Hack Forum show a growing number of would-be hackers taking an interest in the illicit business, and while some things that hackers do using RAT software is certainly illegal, it's rare for one to get caught. So as they're running around infecting folks, they're also becoming more confident in what they're doing since they're meeting others with a shared interest. It's as if an avid however isolated action figure collector realized that other people were also into buying unopened Battle Beasts on eBay and tried twice as hard to make his collection the best.
Or, more simply, it's like one pervert realizing that the world is actually full of perverts, meaning he is not alone in his perversion. "I have some good news for u guys we will all die sometime, really glad to know that there are other people like me who do this shit," said one poster on Hack Forum. "Always thought it was some kind of weird sick fetish because i enjoy messing with my girl slaves."