Security researchers have uncovered a concerning 178% surge in sextortion emails, comparing data from the first half of 2022 to the same period in 2023. This startling increase has elevated sextortion emails to the status of a leading email threat.
ESET, a prominent cybersecurity firm, highlights that sextortion emails secured the third position among all email threats during the first half of 2023. These unsolicited emails exploit recipients’ fears by claiming to possess compromising images or videos captured via their webcams, threatening to disseminate them unless a ransom is paid.
ESET’s global cyber security advisor, Jake Moore, sheds light on the emotional manipulation tactics employed by these emails. He explains that such emails generate fear and anxiety by asserting control over the victims’ personal and intimate moments, creating the prospect of exposure to friends, family, and the public.
However, Moore emphasizes that recipients can confidently ignore these claims, as they are hollow threats intended to capitalize on victims’ anxieties regarding payment. Despite the distressing nature of these emails, ESET has traced at least one scam back to a single actor who demands £1000 ($1260) in bitcoin, capitalizing on the nonexistent webcam video they falsely claim to possess.
While the rise in sextortion emails is alarming, there is a silver lining in the form of insights from research conducted by Barracuda Networks. Their findings suggest that extortion scams are orchestrated by a limited group of threat actors, potentially offering law enforcement an opportunity to disrupt their operations. The prospect of disrupting these actors’ activities presents an avenue to significantly reduce the frequency of these threatening emails infiltrating inboxes. Additionally, the use of similar techniques and templates among these actors could enable security vendors to more effectively block such emails.
Nonetheless, the concept of sextortion extends beyond mere email scams, delving into more serious territory where malicious actors employ deepfake technology to produce explicit content featuring victims’ faces. This advanced form of manipulation is then used to demand ransoms or real explicit photos from victims. The FBI has even issued an alert about this multifaceted threat, stressing the challenges in removing manipulated content once it’s posted online and underscoring the broad demographic of victims, including both children and adults.