Four people suspected of committing online crimes, including malware writing, data theft and credit card fraud, have been arrested in Spain.
Police in Alicante arrested two 17-year-olds yesterday and charged the pair with creating a trojan horse that officers claim allowed them to remotely take control of webcams on infected computers within local schools.
This enabled the duo to spy on students and record intimate images, which they then used to blackmail the victims into giving them money, according to authorities.
Police in Madrid arrested two adults in connection with the earlier inquiry. Authorities suspect the men used the teenagers to obtain confidential information in order to commit credit card fraud. They allegedly made purchases of almost $77,500 (60,400 Euros) using fake credit card details.
Reports said that the investigation – named "Praxis" – has been ongoing since August 2005, when a Spanish computer science company was victimized.
That same year, in a separate case, the courts fined a Spanish male computer student for spying on a woman via her webcam and monitoring her online communications.
Carole Theriault, senior security consultant at Sophos, said in a statement: "Whether it's done for financial gain or for dubious personal reasons, spying on others using webcams is a sick and twisted thing to do, and likely to traumatize the innocent people that suffer this invasion of privacy."
"The two individuals charged with creating the trojan may be minors, but this is no schoolboy prank – these criminals were in it for the money, and were prepared to blackmail and steal from their peers, as well as selling on personal information so that other wrongdoers could get in on the act," she said.
Authorities in Spain have offered a free cleaning tool for people with compromised PCs.
Theriault called for hefty sentences for the arrested.
"It's encouraging to see the Spanish authorities responding to the concerns of businesses and home computer users, and actively pursuing the perpetrators of all online criminal behavior," she said. "In this case, if found guilty, the Spanish courts need to dish out a tough sentence to all parties, in order to send out the message that this type of online behavior will not be tolerated."