Online extortion scams causing havoc globally

Former Conservative leadership candidate and MP Tony Clement has joined a growing list of high profile individuals who’ve been victimized by online extortion scams involving intimate personal images and content.

Clements resignation from several high profile parliamentary committees involving national security and his statement about being extorted drew national headlines.

Clement’s statement acknowledged that he had sent sexually explicit images and a video of himself to “someone [he] believed was a consenting female recipient.” Clement alleged that the recipient tried to extort 50,000 EUR from him, otherwise the material would be released to the public.

But Clement is far from the only individual in Canada to be impacted by sexual extortion scams, or sextortion for short.

Beauceron CEO David Shipley chatted with Tasha Kheiriddin of Global 640 Toronto about Clement’s resignation and the issues around the proliferation of online extortion.

How big is this issue?

There has been a marked increase in extortion criminal activities targeting millions of everyday people since July 2018, but those activities are not originating from any one particular location or group. Usually, cybercriminals try to target victims in a different jurisdiction than their own, so that even if they are successfully identified by authorities like the RCMP, they would be unlikely to face prosecution.

Extortion and Nation State spying

Extortion of high profile public officials like Clement sets off a lot of alarm bells for Shipley, who likens such extortion to honeypot spies of the cold war era. Extortion has the potential to become more valuable than money to nation-state actors when their targets negotiate and agree to provide information rather than, or in addition to, money. In fact, Russian culture has a term for “compromising material” about public figures that is used for negative publicity, blackmail, or extortion: kompromat.

Because Clement was a politician with high-level access to protected information, Shipley thinks that the alleged extortion was probably nation-state activity. He did not, however, speculate on which nation-state was the likely culprit.

Criminals and nation-state actors have been compromising and extorting high profile individuals forever; digital dirt just makes it easier. Remember, once you create something digitally, it is easy to lose control of it and open yourself up to a world of hurt.

Think carefully about the creation, retention and distribution of intimate images and photos.