US embassy employee charged with hacking hundreds of women in creepy extortion scheme

US embassy employee charged with hacking hundreds of women in creepy extortion scheme

By Russell Brandom on August 19, 2015 05:25 pm Email @russellbrandom
http://www.theverge.com/2015/8/19/9179527/us-embassy-hacker-extortion-revenge-porn-nude-photos

A former employee at the US embassy in London has been charged with a far-reaching sexual extortion scheme, implicating as many as 250 women. According to a Justice Department statement, embassy employee Michael C. Ford allegedly employed stolen passwords and sexually explicit photos as part of a broad ranging extortion scheme spanning more than two years, conducted largely on US Embassy computers. “Ford is alleged to have hacked into hundreds of email accounts and tormented women across the country,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn said in a statement, “threatening to humiliate them unless they provided him with sexually explicit photos and videos,”

An affidavit from the case, filed in May, describes an unsettling pattern of sexual harassment and extortion. Using nude photos of his targets as leverage, Ford allegedly threatened to send the pictures to selected friends unless the targets cooperated by filming other women undressing in changing rooms and sending the video along to him. “You do that, and I disappear,” he told one target in an email. The affidavit specifically names two targets, but evidence points to hundreds more that had not yet been reached by investigators.

An excerpt from the affidavit

The attacks were rarely sophisticated, generally relying on social engineering techniques to gain a foothold. In one case described in the affidavit, Ford compromised a victim’s email account by posing as a member of the “Gmail account deletion team” and promising to preserve the account if the target replied with her password within 96 hours.

FORD POSED AS A MEMBER OF THE “GMAIL ACCOUNT DELETION TEAM”

Officials apprehended Ford after one of his email accounts (the so-called “talent scout” account) was traced back to a State Department IP address, as well as two other addresses in the United Kingdom. Eventually, agents were able to trace it back to a single terminal within the US Embassy in London, which was subsequently linked to Ford.

The full scope of Ford’s activities is still unclear, but investigators uncovered a spreadsheet allegedly created by Ford that lists 250 different email addresses that had been either targeted or compromised as part of the scheme. The list is skewed towards .edu addresses, suggesting Ford was targeting college students.

Ford has been charged with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud. “As these allegations highlight, predators use the Internet to target innocent victims,” said aid Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “With the help of victims and our law enforcement partners, we will find those predators and hold them accountable.”

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