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Read This : Protect Yourself against Online Extortion

Imagine investing heavily in the creation of an online business. You’ve paid web designers, SEO service providers and content writers. You’ve set up a secure payment system and cultivated a loyal group of followers. Your profits are tied, quite obviously, to your website. If the site goes down for even a few hours, you lose money.

Now imagine opening an email to discover a nasty surprise: hackers are threatening to launch a Denial of Service attack on your website. Pay them $15,000 and they’ll leave you alone. You ignore the email, believing it to be spam, and a week later your website does indeed go dark. You lose a week’s profits.

Then you get a second email: “pay us $30,000, or we’ll attack again.” What do you do? The crooks have proven they can do the damage they claim. They may be a world away, in a country where they feel safe from your own country’s law enforcement.

Do you contact the police? Pay off the extortionists? Or watch as your business crumbles under multiple DoS attacks?

In a theoretical discussion, these questions are easy enough to answer. You’ve done nothing wrong, so you go to the police. In reality, when a business stands to lose thousands of dollars a day in revenue, $30,000 may not seem that high a price to pay.

Online extortion is increasingly common, although no one knows exactly how widespread the problem is. After all, one of the results of a successful extortion scheme is the victim doesn’t dare go to the police. And it’s not just big business that’s getting hit by virtual protection rackets. Crooks are also leaning on individuals.

Here’s a more personal scenario. You receive an email from someone claiming to have control of your home or work computer. They threaten to erase your hard drive, or, more disturbingly, flood your computer with child pornography and then alert the police. A small fee of $25 will prevent all this from happening.

A vaguer, perversely inspired email simply claims the sender knows about your secret, correctly assuming that a certain number of people who receive the email will, indeed, have guilty secrets.

Such emails are more likely to be mass-email scams than serious attacks, but when it comes to extortion, the threat doesn’t have to be effective — the victim just has to think it is. And like any Prohibition-era protection racket, if you pay once, the blackmailer continues to lean on you as often as possible.

So how do you respond? Do you risk your personal reputation and business by defying that blackmailer? Or do you pay, assuming that the payment isn’t worth the cost of retaliation?

Online businesses are especially vulnerable — a DoS attack can cripple a website for weeks, wasting the investment the business has made in the website and SEO for ecommerce. Individuals are safer. If the threat is vague, it’s likely the extortion email is a scam. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual or business to decide to ignore, fight or give in to blackmail demands. And none of those decisions offer easy solutions.

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Strolling through Nigeria’s Computer Village”

nigerian-geekLAGOS, NIGERIA– I’m in Lagos to speak at an event and decided to come a week early to check out the country’s tech and entrepreneurship scene.

Apparently Arrington thought I was kidding when I told him this. But he should know by now, I don’t need a lot of arm twisting to visit a country of 150 million people chaotically surging into modernity. Where there’s that much opportunity, there’s always entrepreneurship.

Nigeria has fascinated me for the last few years: It has the largest population of any country in Africa. It has abundant natural resources, most notably oil. And it has a ton of potential outside of oil. According to the World Bank the non-oil economy has grown at 8% per year for most of the last decade.

The problem is employment hasn’t budged and the country has fifty million unemployed young people. Those are the official figures, but people in the country tell me it’s actually much higher than that. That helps explain why Nigeria is more known in the West for 419 email scams than its vast economic potential.

Simply put: Nigeria is a nation desperate for more entrepreneurship, but there are some significant challenges for local entrepreneurs and foreign investors. More on the good and the bad in a future post. A lot more. One story includes guys with machetes. But let’s talk about Nigeria’s tech appetite first. Like anyone else they lust for that new, new thing, and many of them go to a place called “Computer Village” to find it.

It’s the Nigerian answer to Shenzhen’s SEG Electronics Market, a crammed, multistory building that holds booths and booths of nearly any component and hardware knock-off you can imagine. SEG is simultaneously thrilling and horrifying for techies, summing up why China is so central to the Valley’s modern gadget boom and why its low-cost, copy-cat goods are such a threat at the same time. You know you are getting close to SEG, because the street hawkers stop pitching you massages and start offering up illicit copies of Windows.

In Lagos, we could tell we were getting close to Computer Village because of the rows of parked trucks of busted out boom-boxes, televisions and other has-been electronics being fixed and rehabed for parts. Hawkers try to get your attention with a sound that’s a combination of a kissing-noise and a hissing noise. It surrounds you as you walk through Computer Village, making you feel like you’re either walking past a rowdy construction site or a den of snake charmers. That’s a good way to describe the sales tactics too.

Nigerian tech entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with this week have complained that many of the developers who apply for jobs are too book-trained; that they lack that raw creative problem solving or “jugaad” as the Indians call it. Jugaad is core to what makes startups able to thrive within constraints and outperform giants. And as you’ll see from the photos below, it’s on full-display in Computer Village.

They’ve got hardware:

Software:

Nigerian Geek Squad:

Printer cartridge refills:

And the app store:

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