The FBI has named a former San Diego college student as one of its most wanted cybercriminals.
Carlos Enrique Perez-Melara, 33, developed an $89 program called "Loverspy" or "Email PI." Sold online from his downtown San Diego apartment, the program would send the suspected cheater an electronic greeting card that, if opened, would install malicious software that could capture emails and instant messages, even spy on someone using the victim's own webcam.
"When they viewed the greeting card online, their computer would be infected with malware which would steal their emails, their internet chats, their weblogs, files on their computer,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Terry Reed.
“Basically full control of their computer would be turned over to the person who purchased and emailed this malicious software,” Reed said.
Perez-Melara, 33, was attending San Diego City College on a student visa in 2003 when he sold the spyware. He has eluded authorities since his July 2005 indictment. His last known whereabouts were in his native El Salvador.
Perez-Melara appears to have made relatively little money on the scheme, unlike others on the FBI list who were accused of bilking millions of dollars from businesses and Internet users worldwide. He allegedly helped turn average computer users into sophisticated hackers who could stalk their victims.
Loverspy was designed "with stealth in mind, claiming that it would be impossible to detect by 99.9 percent of users," according to a July 2005 federal indictment of Perez-Melara.
According to his indictment, Perez-Melara sold the software to 1,000 customers, who then tried to infect about 2,000 others. Victims took the bait only about half the time, the government said. People who purchased the spyware were charged with illegally intercepting electronic communications. Most of those cases appear to have resulted in probation and fines.
According to FBI Section Chief John Brown with the agency’s cyber division, Perez-Melara was added to the FBI most wanted list, in part, because the former college student has been so difficult to find. The government is now offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Perez-Melara is described in an FBI wanted bulletin as 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds with black hair and blue eyes.
Reed said anti-virus software is much better today than it was in 2003, so it would be easier for malware like Loverspy to be detected. However, he still recommends people make sure their anti-virus software is up to date, have a backup of their computer files and never navigate to unfamiliar websites.