Sextortion: firm prison sentences required at trial

Estimated read time 4 min read

Sextortion: firm prison sentences required at trial

The trial of the two 25-year-old French men prosecuted for extortion, computer hacking and money laundering in the case of the crypto-porn scam, opened on Monday before the 13th correctional chamber of Paris, has just ended this Wednesday, September 27th. The prosecutor’s office requested sentences of 4 years and 3 and a half years of imprisonment against Augustin I. and Jordan R., accompanied by a three-year probation period.

The two defendants were on trial for extortions involving pornography and piracy. During the first half of 2019, millions of Internet users had received these malicious messages threatening to disclose alleged recordings of pornographic site visits to third parties, except in the event of a ransom being paid averaging around 500 euros.

So many spam emails sent via Varenyky – a reference to traditional Ukrainian ravioli of sorts -, a homemade malware that had allowed the creation of a network of infected machines. “Augustin I., he is the creator of the virus, so he is at the initiative of this,” reports the deputy prosecutor Audrey Gerbaud to justify his heavier requisitions. But the two defendants, who have fallen out since, however, have shared responsibilities, continues the prosecutor’s magistrate. With a “certain organization”, they managed the botnet together, launched the malicious campaigns and laundered the collected sums.

“They didn’t invent sextortion”

“No one claims that they invented sextortion, specifies the magistrate. But they are the ones who have generalized this method of operation in France.”The duo would have thus aroused vocations with their juicy campaign. At the end of the trial, their benefits still remain uncertain. The two defendants admitted before the magistrates financial gains of around 150,000 euros. During the instruction, it was rather “hundreds of thousands of euros”. The investigators had finally estimated the total financial volume circulating on the wallets linked to crypto-porn at 1.3 million euros, a loot obviously involving other hackers.

In front of the judges, Dominique, one of the victims, remembered receiving the crypto-porn message. “When I received this email, I was extremely shocked, says this six-year-old who immediately filed a complaint, angry. I was told that I had special tastes in pornography, that they had taken control of my computer remotely and that they would see me doing things. I was especially worried about editing: the message said that if I didn’t pay within 48 hours, photos would be sent to my contacts.”

Identification of victims

These massive campaigns have, notes the deputy prosecutor, complicated the identification of the targeted Internet users. “One of the difficulties of the judicial investigation is the size of the victims” of this malware designed to “reach as many people as possible,” she judges. Thus, if new complaints were registered after the opening of the investigation, the prosecution struggled to establish links between the various emails and the defendants. In the end, the 21,609 reports received by the Ministry of the Interior made it possible to register 1,300 complaints, which ended in 149 civil party constitutions at the hearing.

But because of a notice to victims sent too widely before the trial, several people came to court to be dismissed, the fault of emails received outside the period of the facts retained. This perimeter, from January to June 2019, was considered “hazardous” by civil parties. Victims who received threatening messages in English finally felt that they should also be made available to the defendants. “They are both bilingual, several versions of these emails have existed, in particular in the Japanese language,” while the operating procedures were the same, summarizes Camille Tardé, the lawyer of an Internet user.

Blackmail rather than extortion

If for the civil parties the field of prevention is too restrictive, for the defense it is too vague. The lawyers of the defendants thus requested relaxation because of inaccuracies about the identity of the victims in the prevention. “If you don’t know which victims should be blamed for the facts, you will be very sorry to condemn them,” summarizes Jean-Laurent Panier, Augustin I’s lawyer.. “The file is done pschitt, the investigation and investigation work has not been done enough,” assures his colleague Guillaume Halbique for Jordan R.

The two lawyers then disputed the extortion charges. For them, malicious messages were more like blackmail, a crime that was less severely repressed. The prosecutor’s office had seen in the long letters sent to the victims “a moral constraint characteristic of extortion”. The emails played on the stereotypes related to hackers, necessarily capable of taking full control over any machine. “But how can we imagine that there is an irresistible force, the definition of coercion in the criminal code, if 95% of the victims have not paid?”, wonders Guillaume Halbique. The judgment has been put under advisement until next November 2nd.

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