Rogers and Kirkpatrick started with the one thing they knew for certain: the hacker's e-mail.They obtained search warrants for his Internet provider to check activity associated with his e-mail accounts and soon found dozens of victims.
"We could see all of these different communications he had with several different women doing the same thing," Rogers recalls.
As the weeks ticked by, the agents gutted software and slogged through subpoenas.
Melissa wondered why her goof-off sister was IM'ing from the next room instead of just padding over—she wasn't usually that lazy—so she walked over to see what was up. Unlike Melissa, she opened it, expecting, say, a video of some guy stapling his lip to his chin on You Tube. The girls pieced together the clues and agreed: Suzy's AOL account had been hacked.
For the next couple of weeks, the girls remained watchful for malware, insidious software capable of wreaking all sorts of havoc.
If you're anything like us, you have a hard time telling the difference between a female who you've met in reall life and have a genuine relationship with and a bot who wants nothing more than to show your her x-rated webcam.
You see that sexy profile pic and just aren't sure if it is an old friend from high school or an imaginary person created to get you to enter your credit card information on an adult entertainment website.
Then the hacker contacted James directly, boasting that he had control of his computer, and it became clear this wasn't about sex: He was toying with them. But the instant she phoned the dispatcher, a message chimed on her screen. Whoever devised the malware—a sophisticated program capable of dodging antivirus software—clearly had a leg up on university cops.
As Mistah X taunted James, his IMs filling the screen, James called Amy: He had the creep online. They talked about calling the cops, but no sooner had James said the words than the hacker reprimanded him. The task of hunting him down fell to agents Tanith Rogers and Jeff Kirkpatrick of the FBI's cyber program in Los Angeles.
And when she finally did go back to class, she couldn't concentrate.
Amy knew it was irrational, but she couldn't help scanning the crowd, looking for her stalker. He, too, had holed up alone, away from family and friends.
While Rogers often takes the lead consoling victims and grilling suspects, Kirkpatrick can wade through thousands of lines of code to find the slightest abnormality.