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Thursday, July 09, 2020

India among top 10 sextortion email source countries: What is it, what happens to ransom money?

Sextortion is a widely used form of spam attack where cybercriminals extort money by claiming to have receiver’s compromising pictures or evidence of their sexual activity.

Written by Mohammad Faisal | New Delhi | Updated: April 28, 2020 3:37:03 pm
sextortion, extortion, india sextortion mail, spam mail, phishing mail, malware, cyber attack, cyber security, coronavirus India among the top 10 Sextortion mail source countries. (Representational image: Pixabay/B A)

Researchers from the British cybersecurity firm Sophos traced the origin of millions of sextortion spam emails sent between September 2019 and February 2020 to conclude that India is among the top 10 sextortion mail source countries.

Being the source of 3.73 per cent of all sextortion emails, India is placed at fifth position preceded by Vietnam at the top (7.01 per cent), Brazil at second (5.89 per cent), Argentina at third (4.76 per cent), and Korea at fourth (4.76 per cent).

The SophosLabs report highlighted that the scams exploited global botnets on compromised PCs to dispatch these mails around the world. As per the report, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, the Republic of Korea, India, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Colombia, and Peru are the top 10 countries where these compromised computers were used to dispatch the spam messages.

What is sextortion?

Sextortion is a widely used form of spam attack where cybercriminals extort money by claiming to have receiver’s compromising pictures or evidence of their sexual activity. The attacker threatens to share such pieces of evidence with the receiver’s friends and family unless they pay ransom money.

Also read | Pay money or get coronavirus, ‘dirty little secret’ emails scare with Covid-19

Providing more insight Counterpoint Technology Research Analyst Satyajit Sinha told the Indianexpress.com that “Sextortion email is not different from any other phishing. It’s more of a subcategory of ransomware emails. It includes malware that can hack the system upon accepting or activating the link.”

“The trend is to use cryptocurrencies as the mode of digital currency it’s almost untraceable. Hence, these funds can be used for all other cyber-criminal activities on the dark web,” he added.

Where does the money go?

sextortion, extortion, india sextortion mail, spam mail, phishing mail, malware, cyber attack, cyber security, coronavirus Cybercriminals are also using coronavirus scare to scam people. (Representational image: Pixabay/Megan Rexazin)

SophosLabs researchers worked with CipherTrace to track the flow of the money from the attackers’ bitcoin wallets. They found that the extorted funds were used in other illicit activities such as buying stolen credit card data and transacting with dark web marketplaces. Other funds were moved through a series of wallet addresses to be consolidated, put through ‘mixers’ in an attempt to launder the transactions, or converted to cash, the report said.

Cybercriminals riding on coronavirus scare

Cybercriminals have been using coronavirus scare as a tool to target people around the world. They have been putting up malicious websites and apps related to COVID-19, setting up fake COVID-19 tracking dashboards to hack computers, carrying out phishing attacks posing as WHO officials, running coronavirus-themed spam campaigns and more.

They are even using the coronavirus scare for extortion by tweaking the ‘dirty little secret’ campaigns and claiming to infect the receiver’s family with coronavirus if they do not pay the ransom money.

Also read | From fake apps to phishing mails, how Covid-19 is affecting our tech lives

“During COVID -19, cybercriminals are on alert for vulnerable users, they will target anyone. There are no new lows that cybercriminals won’t stoop to,” Sinha said.

Also, since a portion of the workforce is working from home during the coronavirus lockdown, cybercriminals are actively trying to target this group.

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“In the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, many companies are rushing to implement Work From Home policies,” Sinha said. “Having many employees suddenly working remotely is a major challenge for an organisation and presents numerous cybersecurity issues. Further, more people are online now with more unsecured devices.”

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