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When the victim opened the email, she found sexually explicit photos of herself attached and information that detailed where she worked.

Later in the day, to underscore his seriousness, the hacker followed up with another email threatening the victim: “You have six hours.” This victim knew her correspondent only as [email protected], but the attacker turned out to be a talented 32-year-old proficient in multiple computer languages.

Located in Santa Ana, California, his name was Luis Mijangos.

Law enforcement authorities investigating the emails soon realized that the threatening communications were part of a larger series of crimes.

Mijangos, they discovered, had tricked scores of women and teenage girls into downloading malware onto their computers.

The malicious software he employed provided access to all files, photos, and videos on the infected computers.

And if they did, he would then threaten them further, notifying them that he knew they had told someone.The malware Mijangos wrote was sophisticated, and he told federal authorities that he designed it specifically to be undetectable to antivirus programs.He then, according to court documents, “used [those] intimate images or videos of female victims he stole or captured to ‘sextort’ those victims, threatening to post those images or videos on the Internet unless the victims provided more.” Mijangos’s threats were not idle.In at least one case, he posted nude photos of a victim on the Myspace account of a friend of the victim, which Mijangos had also hacked, after she refused to comply with his demands.To make matters worse, Mijangos also used the computers he controlled to spread his malware further, propagating to the people in his victims’ address books instant messages that appeared to come from friends and thereby inducing new victims to download his malware.Mijangos’ actions constitute serial online sexual abuse—something, we shall argue, akin to virtual sexual assault.As the prosecutor said in the case, Mijangos “play[ed] psychological games with his victims” His victims reported signs of immense psychological stress, noting that they had “trouble concentrating, appetite change, increased school and family stress, lack of trust in others, and a desire to be alone.” * * * As bizarre as the Mijangos case may sound, his conduct turns out to be not all that unusual.We searched dockets and news stories for criminal cases in which one person used a computer network to extort another into producing pornography or engaging in sexual activity.We found nearly 80 such cases involving, by conservative estimates, more than 3,000 victims. Prosecutors colloquially call this sort of crime “sextortion.” And while not all cases are as sophisticated as this one, a great many sextortion cases have taken place―in federal courts, in state courts, and internationally―over a relatively short span of time.Each involves an attacker who effectively invades the homes of sometimes large numbers of remote victims and demands the production of sexual activity from them.Sextortion cases involve what are effectively online, remote sexual assaults, sometimes over great distances, sometimes even crossing international borders, and sometimes―as with Mijangos―involving a great many victims.

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