WASHINGTON – Catching a cheating lover online using commercial spyware seems to be easier than nabbing the hacker behind it.
The FBI this week added to its list of most wanted cybercrime suspects a former San Diego college student who developed an $89 program called “Loverspy” or “Email PI.” Sold online from his apartment, the program would send the suspected cheater an electronic greeting card that, if opened, would install malicious software that could capture emails and instant messages, even spy on someone using the victim’s own webcam.
Carlos E. Perez-Melara, 33, has eluded authorities since his July 2005 indictment. His last known whereabouts were in El Salvador, his birthplace.
“These are sophisticated folks who know how to hide themselves on the Internet,” John Brown, an FBI section chief oversees cyberoperations, said of Perez-Melara and creators of other “hacking-for-hire” services.
In one case earlier this year, a New York police detective was arrested for spending more than $4,000 on hacking services to obtain the emails of more than a dozen of his colleagues. Many of the operators tend to be based overseas.
Perez-Melara, who appears to have made relatively little money on the scheme, was in the United States on a student visa in 2003 when he sold the spyware. He allegedly helped turn average computer users into sophisticated hackers who could stalk their victims.
Loverspy was designed “with stealth in mind, claiming that it would be impossible to detect by 99.9 percent of users,” according to the federal indictment of Perez-Melara.
Brown said Perez-Melara was added to the FBI’s most-wanted list in part because the former college student has been so difficult to find. A reward of $50,000 is being offered for information leading to his arrest.
According to his indictment, Perez-Melara sold the software to 1,000 customers, who then tried to infect about 2,000 others. Victims took the bait only about half the time, the government said. People who purchased the spyware were charged with illegally intercepting electronic communications. Most of those cases appear to have resulted in probation and fines.