Adrian Ringland has been sentenced to ten years in jail.
Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, are warning home computer users about the potentially devastating consequences of using improperly secured computers, following news that a hacker who used computer malware to prey upon young schoolgirls has been jailed for ten years.
Adrian Ringland, from the British town of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, admitted forcing schoolgirls to send him explicit pictures after he infected their computers with a spyware Trojan horse. The 36-year-old posed as a teenager in internet chatrooms, in order to plant the malware onto girls' PCs. Victims believed they were opening a picture of their new online friend, but the attached file was really a Trojan horse that allowed Ringland to take over their computers. He then used stolen personal information and the ability to control their computers, to blackmail them into sending more and more explicit pictures.
"What's horrifying to realise is that it's only a matter of time before this happens again - these children will not be the last to be abused via the internet using spyware," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Similarly, it's also conceivable that a hacker could blackmail one of their victims into a face-to-face meeting, using these computer techniques. Home computer users have got to learn from these incidents and take the necessary preventative steps to ensure that moving forward, we won't have to read these horrific stories in the newspapers."
Ringland pleaded guilty to 20 charges connected to the internet child abuse, two of indecency with a child, four of blackmail, four of hacking and 10 offences of making indecent photographs of children. Ringland's victims included a 14-year-old schoolgirl from Manitoba, Canada and three British girls - two aged 14 and one who was 13 years old.
"It's encouraging to see the court take a hard line on this type of abuse, but it must be remembered that the internet gives pedophiles anonymity and access to children all around the world - made more worrying by the fact that so many parents allow young children to use computers alone in their bedrooms," continued Cluley. "Childrens' PCs must be properly protected with the latest anti-virus software, security patches and firewalls. It is also essential that young people are taught how to behave safely online, to avoid being exploited by sick-minded hackers."
Sophos reported on a similar case last year of a Cypriot man who took compromising pictures of a teenager via her webcam, and threatened to send the pictures to her friends unless she posed naked. In February 2005, a Spanish student was fined for a similar offence.
Sophos recommends that companies protect their email gateways with a consolidated solution to defend against viruses, spyware and spam, as well as secure their desktop and servers with automatically updated protection.
Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.