Serena Meyer sat down at her computer. It was a typical day after class. She needed to catch up on some procrastinated homework. To her surprise, things were not looking normal. Her computer screen was frozen. Meyer had been noticing strange things happening with her computer as of late, but she never thought to be concerned. After all, these things happen with computers.
Meyer shut her computer down the only way it would allow her, by turning off the power surge underneath the desk. She let a few hours pass. She attempted to log on again, and this time it appeared to work. Meyer logged onto her online banking to pay some bills when she noticed something strange. Her balance was less than it was yesterday. Shortly after, she began to get instant messages from her online buddies saying they have recently talked to her when Meyer has not been home all day. Meyer’s history essay that she had worked on for the past two weeks was gone. Meyer was a victim of online harassment.
“I was just about done typing a report, for my history class, and then my computer was attacked,” said Meyer. “My bank account, my photos, videos of my little cousins, everything was wiped clean and destroyed.”
Internet harassment, or commonly called e-stalking or cyber bullying, is one of the most common crimes and the easiest to get away with.
According to Dr. David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, an average of one in only four youths every year will receive an unwanted sexual image, and one in five youths will experience some form of online harassment in the past year. “Harassment over the web is so common because it’s so easy. The internet provides a means for predators to easily pick a target and harass them, and at the same time, concealing their identity,” said Finkelhor.
Internet stalking is the preferred choice of stalking for sexual deviants, because unlike the conventional method, it is easier, more accessible, and does not require the aggressor to leave his or her house. According to Finkelhor’s research study, 33 percent of children every year have experienced the most serious instances of Internet harassment. This involves a solicitor setting up a meeting date for his or her underage victim, sending the victim gifts via mail, or calling their victim’s house.
“Although the majority of web harassment involves sexual reasons, it doesn’t have to,” states Finkelhor. “And it does not have to involve children.” Adults, like Meyer, have been hacked for the pursuit of information, such as credit card names, passwords, and bank statements.
Frank Rizzo, 29, now considers himself a veteran e-stalker, although he does not prefer to use that term. He has had a chat room on Yahoo for the past 10 years where he meets his online group to discuss their next victim or to play “caps” for one another to watch.
A cap, short for capture, is online slang for a video recording of someone, usually a female, doing sexual acts on a webcam. The term “cap” is generally used when the victim in question did not know she was being recorded. These women do sexual things on webcam for a group of people or one person they trust, but unknowingly are being recorded, and their videos would be shared with an underground Internet community. These “cappers” can either hack the victim’s webcam, pretend to be her friend using a fake screen name, or she simply lets the capper view, unaware of what will happen.
Rizzo is known among his online group for having the best caps. “I have a master cap collection. I have around a thousand caps since I first starting doing it.” Among his group are guys with nicknames such as Mojo, Kero, Raize, Pr0jecTerr0r, and Sk8. Rizzo goes by Rizz. These are their hacker aliases.
Most e-stalkers cannot actually hack, but their expertise comes from getting their victims to think they are being hacked. Rizzo explains “Just so you know, I don’t do this anymore, now they come to me, but back then, they thought I was hacking them so I’d get them to do stuff for me. All you got to do is get them to think you’re [messing] up their computer somehow.
A simple method e-harassers use to get a victim to think s/he is being hacked is simply to Google or search his or her screen name. This leads the stalker to more information. Then, the stalker uses his new found information and Googles that. Eventually, the e-stalker gathers most of his prey’s information: her Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, AIM, Hotmail, and whatever various networking websites and online blogs she may have.
According to Finkelhor, online users should never give out their Facebook to people they do not know personally, or make it accessible for a stranger to obtain. “Before the growing popularity of Facebook, web users were very precautious about putting their last name anywhere online. It just generally wasn’t heard of. Putting any information about yourself, including your last name and telephone number, you were ostracized by your peers. Facebook changed all that. Now people are comfortable about putting their last name on the web for the world to see.”
A Facebook is golden to the e-stalker. He now knows his victims full name and can enter it on sites including but not limited to whitepages.com, pipl.com, mylife.com, and find out her address and home phone number. Some of these sites may work and some may not. A skilled Internet stalker performs trial and error until he finds the information he wants.
Now comes the point of contention. The e-stalker uses his newfound information to scare his prey.
“Um, how’d you get my number?” The victim asks, worried.
“I hacked you,” replies the stalker.
Meyer has learned her lesson and has made a new screen name for every online account she has.
“I used to have the same screen name on Windows Live as I did on Yahoo,” explained Meyer. “I had a bunch of people on my buddy list on Yahoo and Windows Live was more private. Well, people would add me on [Windows Live], getting my screen name from Yahoo, and make fake screen names pretending to be my friends. For the very first few weeks I would fall it, and end up having really in-depth conversations with them thinking they were someone else.”
Rizzo also explained his use password cracking. A password cracker is essentially a program that stores thousands of passwords in its memory. The culprit enters in a screen name, clicks on the scan button, and the cracker will scan every password in its memory to see if it has a match in the midst of seconds. If there is a match, the culprit has his or herself a new screen name. Users can always add more passwords to the memory as they please. There is a simple solution, however, to never being a victim of password cracking. All that is required is a user make sure he or she has a unique password that would be unlikely for anyone else to think of, something with a lot letters, numbers, and special symbols.
It used to be where people would fear giving away any information online. It was hobby. Now, with social networking constantly advancing, people aren’t just getting online for a hobby or to treat boredom, people are becoming one with the online community. It is involved with work, education, and family. With social networking, people keep in touch with people, such as second grade classmates, when fate would normally keep them apart. This reliance on social networking can be very rewarding, but also very dangerous.
Dr. David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, firstname.lastname@example.org