California Man Charged With Hacking Women’s Computers and Extorting Lewd Images

June 28, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

As a West Palm Beach cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I was interested to read about a California man who is charged with extortion in connection with crimes allegedly committed online. According to a June 22 story from the Orange County Register, Luis Mijangos, 31, was arrested by the FBI that day for allegedly extorting more than 100 young women into sending him explicit photos and videos over the Internet. Mijangos is accused of hacking into more than 100 computers used by at least 230 people, using “malware” disguised as downloadable pop songs. Once he was inside the victims’ computers, he used his access to request naughty pictures that he then allegedly used to threaten them into sending more. He faces a federal charge of extortion. He has also admitted to participating in an international hacking ring and involvement in credit card fraud, the article said.

According to a June 26 report from PC World, Mijangos used the Internet chat program IRC and peer-to-peer file sharing networks to distribute a software program that allowed him to control the computer of anyone who downloaded it. Once he was inside a computer, he would reportedly use that access to send the malware to the victim’s friends and family over instant messaging, and put a “keylogger” program on the computer that would allow him to see and record everything the user did. More importantly, however, Mijangos used his access to look through the victims’ hard drives for explicit images and videos. If he didn’t find them, the report says, he would hack the email addresses belonging to the victims’ boyfriends and request some, or turn on a computer’s webcam and watch to see if he could catch them in an intimate moment. And once he had those images and videos, he is accused of contacting the victims directly and threatening to send the videos to everyone they knew unless they sent him more and stayed away from the police.

What interested me, as a Miami-Dade cyber crime criminal defense attorney, was that Mijangos faces only the extortion charge. As the Register article notes, extortion carries a maximum sentence of two years in federal prison. Two years in federal prison isn’t fun, but it’s a far cry from the penalty that Mijangos might face if he were also charged with aggravated identity theft or unauthorized access to a computer -- both of which could be charged, judging by the description in the article. It’s unclear why he isn’t charged, or isn’t yet charged, but from a defense attorney’s perspective, the most likely answer may be the simplest: there might not be enough evidence to prove either of those crimes. Prosecutors risk losing the case if they bring charges that aren’t supported by the evidence. Hacking crimes can be particularly difficult to prove because the accused are not physically present and can sometimes cover their tracks electronically. If they can connect those crimes to a specific computer, prosecutors still must prove that the accused was physically behind that computer when the crimes took place.

These are part of the difficulties that cyber crime presents for prosecutors and Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense lawyers like me. The Internet changes much faster than the law, and law enforcement and prosecutors don’t always have the resources to keep up. As a former cyber crime prosecutor for the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office, I have the experience and skills to know where evidence that may clear my clients’ names may be hiding -- and when evidence may be misleading or false. I believe this gives my clients a major advantage, allowing them to build the fullest possible defense by putting the best range of information and evidence at their disposal. Unfortunately, not every attorney has these skills -- including some prosecutors. Mijangos would be well served to seek out such an attorney.