Menu
$199.99 HP Stream 11 Laptop is On Sale

$199.99 HP Stream 11 Laptop is On Sale

Cara Delevingne Recorded Song with Pharrell

Cara Delevingne Recorded Song with Pharrell

Black Friday 2014 iPad Deals will be Amazing

Black Friday 2014 iPad Deals will be Amazing

Taylor Swift Releases New Song from 1989 Album Midnight

Taylor Swift Releases New Song from 1989 Album at Midnight

Oscar Pistorius Sentencing is Today: Watch Live Video Stream

Oscar Pistorius Sentencing is Today: Watch Live Video Stream

Meet the Guy Hunts Down The Men Behind Revenge Porn Websites

Apr 24 2014, 3:07am CDT | by , in News | Technology News

Met the Guy Hunts Down The Men Behind Revenge Porn Websites
 
 

Adam Steinbaugh’s full time time job is working as a law clerk for a solo practitioner in Los Angeles. What he’s passionate about is his weird side hobby: revenge porn vigilantism. In the last year and a half, he has spent hundreds of hours tracking down the identities of the people– who inevitably turn out to be men — running “revenge porn websites,” where naked photos that were meant for just one loved one suddenly go on public exhibition, often exposing the person’s name, contact information and Facebook profile along with their private parts. On his blog, Steinbaugh has helped exposed the “white-hat hacker” cum porn star behind Texxxan, the dubious dynamic duo behind YouGotPosted, and the Oklahoman drummer behind WinByState; he is currently hunting down the owners of other such sites, many with names that I can’t print here at Forbes.

“I was really pissed off at what was being done to these men and women and wanted to do something about it,” says Steinbaugh, 31. Once exposed, the men are subject to public shaming. Sometimes people will take sites down when they get wind Steinbaugh is going to expose them. Others lash out at him. “I get death threats and threatened with lawsuits,” he says. He hasn’t been sued yet but those he has exposed have. The guys behind YouGotPosted got hit with a $385,000 default judgment for posting child porn. California’s attorney general is pursuing criminal cases against both YouGotPosted and WinByState, trying to nail them for identity theft, extortion and, in the case of WinByState, hacking. Steinbaugh, an advocate of free speech, is skeptical of the attempt to criminalize posting someone’s photo and Facebook profile as “identity theft,” but is hoping the extortion charges stick.

The most famous of these sites, IsAnyoneUp, was proudly fronted by a California twenty-something named Hunter Moore, but he was stabbed, doxxed, sued, scared off, and eventually arrested and charged for allegedly hacking into people’s emails to get nude pics. While the people submitting other people’s nude pics can get into legal trouble (to the tune of $500,000 in some cases), the operators of the site are usually protected thanks to the law protecting content providers from liability for things that their users do and write. Despite that, and perhaps as a result of Hunter Moore’s experience, many other operators of revenge porn sites keep to the shadows, trying to keep their identities hidden. Steinbaugh does his best to out them, exposing them as they have helped in the exposure of so many others.

“Revenge porn purveyors are scared of Adam Steinbaugh, and rightly so. He’s very, very good at what he does – tracking down people who don’t want to be tracked down – and this kind of skill exerts an immediate and powerful pressure on revenge porn sites,” says Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami who has helped author legislation criminalizing revenge porn. “There are many people who claim to have sympathy for what victims go through, but Adam is one of the very few individuals who actually does something to help them. And he does it in this low-key, modest, I’m-just-a-decent-human-being kind of way that sends a powerful message.”

“I don’t know if my public shaming approach has been effective. I don’t know if any of these guys would care about being posted on some Adam guy’s blog,” says Steinbaugh. “But making the information I’ve developed available to attorneys and victims is helpful if they sue.”

Before law school, Steinbaugh worked for MySpace as a security abuse specialist. He tracked down people who were spamming the site or posting inappropriate content, which often involved tracking down IP addresses and reporting the culprits to ISPs and advertising networks. He started his revenge porn operator hunting after he finished law school at Loyola in Los Angeles in 2012. He was inspired by the work of legal blogger Marc Randazza who suspected an extortion scheme at nude-pic-posting site IsAnybodyDown, citing evidence that the guy running it was pretending to be a lawyer under another name who one could pay $250 to “fight” to get pictures taken off the site.

“Adam’s research skills and tenacity are awe inspiring,” says Randazza who wasn’t aware that he had inspired Steinbaugh’s work until I reached out to him. “I think that Adam has been a pretty powerful force in the fight against involuntary porn. I’ve personally used his research, and I’ve seen files that he’s provided to law enforcement world wide.”

Steinbaugh’s hunt usually starts with a WhoIs search to see what contact information was used to register a site, which is helpful unless they’ve used a privacy proxy to hide their details. He uses another search tool, DomainTools, to look at which other websites are hosted on the same server; the contact information on those websites may not be hidden as was the case for a Texan “penetration tester” who was hosting his mother’s website on the same server as his dirty Texxxan porn site. Steinbaugh looks at the metadata on the logos on the website with an EXIF extractor. He uses archive.org to look at the history of the site and its Terms of Service to find any identifying clues. He’ll look at the metadata associated with email messages — which for example linked the IsAnybodyDown operator’s email to the non-existent lawyer’s email address. And he scrawls though the code for the website for any comments that might lead to someone’s identity or for information leaked through advertising on the site. It will often include an affiliate code that the advertisers uses to pay someone for the traffic they sent. “These guys use the same affiliate code which they use on other websites that are more legitimate, so I can see that Website A and Revenge Porn Website B have the same affiliate code,” he says.

His Sherlocking isn’t always digital. Sometimes it’s through good old-fashioned anonymous sources or through contacting the people who are the first revenge porn victims on the site. “When these guys first start these sites, they tend to post photos of people they know and that will often provide leads,” he says.
And there’s information sharing among a cohort of people who are working to stop sites like this, including victims of revenge porn who have started advocacy groups and academics such as Danielle Citron (a Forbes colleague) and Mary Anne Franks. “He’s an unsung hero of the anti-revenge porn movement,” says Franks.”Attorneys rely on him for in-depth analysis of revenge porn website owners, their identities, and their assets, so he’s the backbone of the majority of these revenge porn lawsuits,” says Bekah Wells who runs EndRevengePorn.com. “From a victim’s perspective, he’s one of the few people who I trust in this movement; he’s been there for us since day one. I always joke that he never sleeps. The only reason I know that he does is because I once called him and woke him up.”

Citron and Franks both admire his work, but say it can’t stem the larger tide. “It is a drop in the bucket,” says Citron. “There are still over 40 sites devoted exclusively to revenge porn and many many more porn sites with devoted revenge porn hubs. Nonetheless he has brought attention to the problem and I am grateful.”

“What does trouble me, and this is no fault of Adam’s, is that some people take the efforts of people like him as evidence that no structural change is necessary to address the harm of revenge porn,” says Franks, who is pushing states to pass laws the criminalize the posting of “involuntary porn.” “Vigilantes can make dramatic impact, but they often don’t present a genuine threat to the existing order.”

Steinbaugh thinks that the vigilantism and societal disapproval of revenge porn is working. “I think the tide is turning,” he says. “The shift in public opinion is helping to shut these sites down.

 

Ideally, people would conform with a societal norm that says it’s not okay to post a naked photo of someone without their permission. But that norm is violated way too often, so instead we’re left with a combination of vigilantism, lawsuits, criminal charges, and legislative efforts to try to stop the flow of intimate photos onto our computer screens.

Apple Q4

Apple Q4 Beats Expectations

11 hours ago, 3:53pm CDT

iOS 8.1 with Apple Pay Released

iOS 8.1 with Apple Pay Released

11 hours ago, 3:25pm CDT

Shopping Deals

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

 

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus