Most internet users wouldn't want to share their browsing history with the rest of the world. (It's one of the reasons 'incognito mode' is so popular - despite not actually working as advertised.)
This is especially true of people who look at questionable online material. So what would you be willing to pay if someone had a secret recording of you watching porn, taken on your webcam?
This is precisely what one of the latest scams to hit the internet involves: so-called "hackers" send an email demanding payment in Bitcoin or they'll release a video of you watching porn (and whatever else you're doing at the same time.) But have these wannabe blackmailers really caught you with your pants down? Let's take a look at the evidence.
Even when you're covering your tracks by opening a new incognito window, your web browsing history might not be as private as you think. Information about what you do online, down to every single URL, can likely be purchased on the web by anyone who wants it. And while in most cases people are making those purchases for marketing reasons, they could choose to use their newfound knowledge maliciously as well.
For all the advances in malicious spyware, most online scams don't exploit security flaws. Instead they target human frailties, hoping to trick you into handing over your money. Rather than fooling you with a phoney power bill, the latest scam claims to have caught you home alone in a compromising position.
Scammers claim to have snuck spyware onto your computer to record when you're watching porn, also secretly turning on your webcam to record what you're doing while you watch. Having supposedly stolen your address book, they demand a Bitcoin ransom within 24 hours or they'll send the incriminating video to everyone you know.
The wording varies and the spelling is appalling, in an effort to avoid spam filters, but the email looks something like this:
During all your life u was notified to surf web catiously, but you didnt. Whats the problem?- You will ask me. The whole point is that I adjusted the malicious soft on a web-site with videos for adults (site with pоrn content) (u know whats up). Object was watching video for adults and device tarted functioning as dedicated desktop with keylogger function. Furthermore all cams and screen at the 1st onset started recording. Then my virus collected all your contacts from messengers, e-mails and social networks. So what do we have now? I made the split screen vid (1st part-screen rec.(u have a nice interests lmao), second- camera rec.) and all ur contacts. I think its not good news. Consequently in my opinion two hunned ninety usd is enough for this smallwee error. My btc(cryptocurrency) wallet - [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]
Ask internet how to buy it. It is not very hard. Just write "how to get btc" I give u 1 day after opening this message(I adjusted a special pixel in it, Ill know when you read it). If you dont send me the necessary amount Ill send video with you to all your contacts Upon I receive btc- the сompromising will be deleted.If u charge me to send evidence, reply + and Ill share video that I made with three contacts Ive collected from u.
Can go to cops, but they will not have time to find me , im Ukranian, so ull be a star among friends.
If you can swear hand on heart that you've never, ever watched online porn whilst pleasuring yourself then you've nothing to fear, but chances are you can't – which is exactly what the scammers are relying on.
Dear Lifehacker, I've noticed that most internet browsers have a "secret" or "incognito" mode in their options. I was just wondering what the benefits of using this mode are? Does it hide my browsing history from everyone, or just people who use my computer?
Of course it really is possible to sneak this kind of malware onto your computer and there are reports of real masturbation blackmail threats in Australia. That's why it's important to keep your computer's security up to date and take care when wandering through the web's red light district. Some people even go as far as covering their webcam when they're not using it.
Rather than going to all the trouble of infecting your computer, it's much easier for these scammers to bluff – playing on fears over spyware and webcam hijacking in the hope you'll panic and pay up. There are similar scams claiming to be from law agencies, insisting you pay a fine for watching porn online.
The scammers even dare you to call their bluff, at which point they'll supposedly share the clip with three of your contacts – leaving you to imagine the worst case scenario.
Apart from the spam-style grammar and the fact that this email has been sent to countless people like any other widespread phishing attempt, you can spot this scam as a fake because – unlike genuine blackmail attempts – they haven't backed up their threats with evidence. If they really had video of your handiwork they'd include it in the email to prove they mean business.
Don't fall for this scam, just delete it. Your secret is safe, at least for now.
Dear Lifehacker, It was recently reported on the ABC that hundreds of Australian computers are being infected with ransomware, which I guess is a form of the cryptlocker virus. It seems that this problem is becoming more widespread. My question is. how can I prevent my computer from being targeted? And is there anything I can do if it's already too late?
This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.
This story has been updated since its original publication.