There is a story that a famous author once sent a telegram to a number of prominent people in his town with the message ‘All is discovered. Flee.’ and that a number of them did just that. It may have been Mark Twain (the attribution I thought I knew), it may have been Arthur Conan Doyle (either in reality or in a Sherlock Holmes story) or it may have been from a number of other sources. The Snopes forum traced it to an 1876 article in The Boston Investigator which itself claimed to be quoting a story told in The Kansas City Times.
The reason I was looking was that a colleague had contacted me for advice about a message she had received, claiming to have compromising pictures of her taken via her webcam on access to a salacious site and demanding a Bitcoin ransom. She was certain of her innocence and, not least because I don’t think she has a webcam and her workstation is in a shared office, there is absolutely no cause to doubt that. A bit of searching revealed some recent prior art (safe link – a description of some variants of the scam) but she was fascinated at the further information I provided on earlier antecedents after I’d done a bit more searching.
It is technically feasible for a webcam to be hijacked but much easier just to send out thousands of email messages and hope that a few people have a guilty conscience. I’d suggest keeping a clean conscience and, for the belt and braces approach, not having an uncovered webcam on your computer as good defences! More generally though, treat all emails with a degree of scepticism. Even if it apparently comes from me, does it use one of my standard sign offs and does it feature my predilection for obscure verbiage? That would constitute something approaching a fingerprint. If it comes from an unknown source and particularly if it makes some kind of threat or grand promise, really don’t trust it at all.
I just wish it were a bit easier to track down the senders of such messages and introduce them to the due process of the law.