1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Reset the 'net

July 17, 2010

A hacker sent a virus to 150 girls, allowing him to spy on them through their own webcams. German politicians and police proposed measures to crack down on Internet crime and improve education of young Internet surfers.

A switch with a red power light
The chancellor should be able to turn off the Internet in Germany, one detective saidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Prosecutors in the western city of Aachen are questioning a man for spying on schoolgirls using the web cameras on their own computers. Police used the man's Internet Protocol (IP) address to track him to his home, according to an association of German data protection specialists.

The daily Westfalenblatt reported that the man spied used a computer virus to spy on over 150 girls. Prosecutors confirmed an investigation was ongoing but declined to comment on the number of victims.

A widespread problem

two girls sitting with a laptop in a garden
One girl's chat contacts provided a list of victims for the hackerImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The case was discovered by Thomas Floss, a data protection advocate who gives presentations in schools to promote awareness of safe Internet practices. Two girls came forward after one of his presentations to tell him that their web cameras lit up even when the girls had not activated them.

Floss said he believes the problem to be widespread.

"I've visited 50 to 60 schools, and each time at least one girl tells me she has had this kind of problem," he said.

Floss's suspicions were confirmed when he discovered a so-called Trojan virus on one of the girl's computers. It is now believed the hacker broke into one of the girl's accounts on the ICQ chat application and sent the virus to new targets he found on the girl's contact list.

'Reset the Internet'

girls with laptops
The girls knew something was wrong when their webcams lit up by themselvesImage: AP

Politicians responded to the uproar surrounding the case, stressing the need to protect young Web surfers from dangerous hackers.

"This case has made clear how web cameras and other input devices can be manipulated," said Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar. "They pose a greatly underestimated danger."

Wolfgang Bosbach, a leading member of the Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, meanwhile called for a systematic prosecution of Internet crime to discourage copy-cats.

"This is why it's so important to educate especially children and teenagers about the dangers of the Internet," he said.

Stronger demands came from Klaus Jansen, head of the Association of German Detectives, who insisted that there was no longer room for anonymity on the Internet. Jansen called for identification requirements for web surfers - and for the introduction of a "reset button for the Internet" that would allow the German chancellor to remove Germany from the Internet in the case of an emergency.

A simpler solution?

Constanze Kurz of the hacker association Chaos Computer Club, dismissed Jansen's suggestions. "He can put away his science fiction novels now," she said.

Kurz stressed that anonymity on the Internet was key to freedom of information and the formation of opinions.

She prescribed a "quite simple solution to the problem: Put a sticker over the lens."

Author: David Levitz (apn/dpa/GLP/ots)

Editor: Sean Sinico