In 2017, the way to destroy an ex is to destroy their devices
"I'm out for blood," Julie*, a woman who asks to remain anonymous breathes into the phone — her frayed voice full of anger at an ex. "I want to destroy this person electronically."
Destroying him electronically makes sense: their romance was an electronic one, she says. It started with chatting online, growing even more serious over the phone. Julie moved across the country for him, realizing it was a terrible mistake after seeing his unfettered chatting online with other women. She confronted him. He kicked her out. And worse.
"He hit my dog," she seethes. "I can tolerate what someone does to me up to a certain point. But when you lay a finger on my dog, that crosses the line."
Revenge. For that, she wants revenge, and has a cruel but savvy strategy to rip out his heart. Hire a hacker.
"Fry the insides of his devices," she says remorseless. "Find his phone, his laptop, and fry them."
This is modern e-love and e-jealousy: go after our beloved tech. Twenty years ago, the most cherished possession most of us owned might have been our car, a jealous ex getting vengeance by slashing the tires. Or maybe it would've been a house, eventually getting egged by a woman scorned. But, in 2017, this woman says, "The way to destroy an ex is to destroy their devices."
"Do you know any hackers who will do this?" she asks us. "Money is no object."
No one knows how often this sort of electro-revenge happens. But there are hints that hacking into exes' tech is a popular mode of revenge. A public website called HackersList, which went up a few years ago, gives an insight into the world of hackers for hire. Customers post jobs they want done; hackers bid for them. An analysis of some of the online requests found that business and romance were the top two reasons to hire a hacker. (The next most common scenario involved school; there's apparently a lot of people who want to hack their school to improve grades.)
Of course, HackersList was criticized for being unethical and illegal, and it's mostly shuttered. Today, there are still a few hackers that advertise on the regular web, like Neighborhood Hacker, who says, with unorthodox grammar and spelling, "Ill do anything for money, im not a pussy :) if you want me to destroy some bussiness or a persons life, ill do it!" But if you're looking for someone a little more professional who's willing to break the law, the Dark Web is home to many digital mercenaries. We spent half a day on the Dark Web, calling and emailing a handful of hackers who were offering unspecified "services." Three got back to us. Two confirmed that they are often asked to hack exes for revenge, and that they will do it, but both declined to give details. Both ended our conversations quickly.
Is this even possible, what our angry lover wants? To "fry" someone's devices from the inside, remotely?
"There's a lot of ways to 'fry' a computer," says computer whiz Stephen Chavez — who hacked his wheelchair and is close to controlling it with his mind — says via email. A well-defended computer probably couldn't be fried. But if you had remote access, you could juice the voltage and overheat the CPU and then, Chavez says, the user would see "magic smoke" drifting up from the fried computer.
More often than "frying" a device, angry lovers want to blackmail, embarrass or sabotage an ex, often by stealing revealing photos from their Facebook page or doxxing them (posting sensitive information online). It's all sweet digital revenge.
The angry woman we talked to says she found a hacker in Vietnam that claims they'll fry her ex's devices for $500. No word yet on whether it worked. All we know is that the human heart is dark, and can find a shadowy home on the dark edges of the Internet. And the loves of our lives now — our tech — are vulnerable.