A 32 year-old software engineer has been sentenced to two years and two months in prison for remotely accessing chat logs, photos, videos, and webcams of his female victims.

For nine years, between 2010 to 2019, Robert Davies used malware to infiltrate his targets’ devices and access their data without them knowing. In one incident Davies accessed a schoolgirl’s webcam and secretly filmed her undressing and showering.

Davies is not only a voyeur but also a catfish. He is said to have created multiple accounts on Skype to get close to his targets with the end goal of eventually tricking them into performing sex acts for him. While using one of his Skype personas, he befriended an 11 year-old girl and built a relationship with her over the course of two years. He eventually gained access to her computer and switched on her webcam without her realizing.

Andrew Shorrock of the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is quoted saying: “Davies has amassed what can only be described as a cybercriminal’s toolkit. Not only was he using these tools to break in to people’s devices, he was using them to spy on his unsuspecting victims and to steal naked images of them for his own sexual gratification.”

All in all, Davies victimized 25 individuals.

Davies pleaded guilty to all 25 counts of “causing a computer belonging to another to perform a function with intent to secure unauthorized access”, one count of voyuerism, four counts of making sexual photos of children, and one count of owning extreme pornographic media.

“The extent of the damage you have caused is immeasurable and constitutes a total violation of their privacy, ” said Judge Julie Warburton of Nottingham Crown Court as she carried out the sentence.

How to protect yourself from voyeurs and catfishers

Technology has made it possible for anyone with the right know-how and ill intent to access someone else’s device and spy on them. Thankfully, incidents of voyuerism and catfishing can be avoided. Here are some tips:

Webcams

  • If you use a laptop, make sure you put something over the webcam. A simple piece of tape will do, or you can use a specially made webcam protector.
  • If you have a webcam that’s not built into your computer, then get into the habit of manually disconnecting your webcam when you’re not using it.
  • If your webcam has a password, change it from the default to a long and complicated one

Instant messengers (IMs) and voice-over-IP (VoIP) apps

  • Treat your IM or VoIP app chat of choice as you would your online social media account: lock down your security and privacy settings, and make sure your ID/handle is not searchable just by anyone (if at all), which means random strangers cannot just add you as a contact.
  • Keep chats and video sessions clean as much as possible. It may be fun for you to try something risque every now and then, but remember that the threat of sextortion, revenge porn, and blackmail are real.

General tips

  • It goes without saying that you should make sure you have good security software installed on your device and keep it up to date.
  • And talking of updates, make sure you’re applying them as soon as they’re available, whether that’s your phone, your computer’s OS or your browser. Cybercriminals use known flaws to exploit systems so keeping your system up to date is one way of making things harder for them.

If there is one final takeaway we can get from the Davies case, it’s that cybercriminals can be very patient. And sometimes, all it takes is one person to choose to take advantage of our trust. One can never be too careful, especially online.

Stay safe!