You first wrote about this scam a year ago. When did phishing start?
I heard about it in 2020, but the scam had already been going on for years by then. According to the indictment, this has been going on for at least five years.
How did you hear about it?
From one source. Someone who works in publishing called me and said, “The weirdest thing is happening. People are hacked, but nothing ever happens.
What I thought was, let me call someone who knows hacking, that’s what I thought. I called Nicole Perlroth, who covers cybersecurity. I had known Nicole for years. And so we worked on it together.
Which books were targeted? Which publishers? Was there a rhyme or an apparent reason?
Everyone was targeted – really famous novelists like Margaret Atwood, celebrities like Ethan Hawke, and things like early short story collections that would have no monetary value on the dark web.
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Why would anyone do that? It seems like a lot of effort for no apparent gain.
No one really knows the answer. Prosecutors speculate that he may have been doing this to steal ideas he could pass off as his own, but it doesn’t really make sense. Publishing a book takes time. If he were to scam someone’s idea, by the time everything he wrote came out, the original would have already been published.
Some other possible explanations make more sense, like he did to get a head start at work by showing himself to be really aware, but that was a really extreme level of knowing. And, working where he worked, for most manuscripts he could call someone and ask for one.
However, wasn’t this a relatively low-tech scam?
Even if technologically it is not so complicated to create a new domain or set up a fake email address, you have to write all the emails and know the people you are targeting. It was deliberate to impersonate him – he was careful to sound like the person he claimed to be when talking to a particular author or a particular publisher. This clearly took research and time. Every little request was tailored to what he was looking for.