Ever wondered about an ex? Ever wanted to break into their computer and spy on them whenever you want? Over a thousand people all over the world did and in 2003, an $89 spyware program called Loverspy enabled them to spy on over 2,000 victims. Created by 25 year-old El Salvadorian, Carlos Enrique Perez-Melara, Loverspy did more than give wounded hearts an avenue for revenge. Thanks to Loverspy, Perez-Melara faces up to 175 years in prison and $8.75 million in fines.
Loverspy: The Ins and Outs
Even though Loverspy's victims had anti-virus software, the program evaded detection systems. It worked like this: purchasers could enter up to five different email addresses of their chosen victims. Loverspy sent victims an e-card with the ironic subject line: "I Love You." Upon opening the card, Loverspy installed itself on the victim's computer and recorded everything the victim did, allowed purchasers to access, change or delete files and turn on Web-cams connected to the computer.
Loverspy was a type of software program known as spyware which gathers information about a user when he or she is on the Internet. A favorite of spammers, phishers and hackers, spyware can be used to collect marketing information, passwords and personal information. Spyware slows computers, since it operates on top of whatever programs the victim is already running. Spyware can disable a victim's Internet access, fill their systems with viruses, or cause the machine to suddenly malfunction or shut down.
The Government Steps In
In 2003, Loverspy caught the attention of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice after an informant received a Loverspy email spam. FBI agents raided Perez-Merala's apartment and seized his computers. Perez-Merala fled.
Perez Merala Faces Stiff Charges
On July 21, 2005, a San Diego federal grand jury indicted Perez-Merala for 35 crimes including manufacturing, sending, and advertising a hidden interception device and accessing protected computers for money. An FBI investigation estimates Loverspy cost victims roughly $500,000.
Perez-Merala faces such stiff charges because he violated many aspects of the federal law under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) as well as California's strict state codes. The ECPA criminalizes intercepting both electronic communications in transit and storing them, which was a Loverspy seling point. Since Perez-Merala's web site was based in San Diego, he was punished under California law, which criminalizes the unauthorized attempt of a person or business to read or learn the contents of a communication while it is in transit.
Perez-Merela isn't the only person risking jail. Users of the program, which promised "to spy and monitor EVERYTHING there is to monitor on a computer," are facing charges as well. The federal grand jury in San Diego indicted 4 people who used the Loverspy program in direct connection with Perez-Merala. Each faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $500,000. Other purchasers are being prosecuted in North Carolina, Texas, Hawaii, and Missouri
When it comes to spyware, don't be a victim and don't be a user. If it sounds like a privacy violation, it probably is. You can protect yourself from software like Loverspy by installing spyware detection and elimination programs which have gotten much sharper over the years. Also, only download from reputable sites. Some seemingly innocent programs can contain hidden spyware. Finally, if you have a question about a specific software package, check with some of the anti-spyware groups which have formed online. Remember, if you learn anything from Loverspy's debacle, treat your ex's with care.