Federal officials in New York announced on Monday the largest-ever international law enforcement operation targeting a malicious software used to secretly control hundreds of thousands of victims’ computers.
Prosecutors say that since 2010 the organization known as “Blackshades” has sold and distributed malware known as the Blackshades Remote Access Tool, or “RAT.”
The so-called RAT has been used to infect computers, causing the machines to spy on victims through their web cameras, steal files, account information and passwords, and log the victims’ keystrokes. More than half a million computers worldwide have been infected with the RAT through the handiwork of several thousand criminals in more than 100 countries, authorities said.
Since last week, more than 90 people have been arrested and more than 300 searches were conducted in 19 countries as part of the law enforcement operation, officials said.
Among those charged were a 24-year-old from Sweden who is the alleged owner and operator of the Blackshades organization, who co-created the RAT. He was arrested in Moldova in November 2013 and is awaiting extradition to the U.S.
Court papers say the Blackshades RAT was typically advertised on forums used by computer hackers and was available for purchase, at a cost of $40, on a website maintained by Blackshades. To infect a victim’s computer, the cybercriminal could trick the victim into clicking on malicious links or by hiring others to install the RAT on victims’ computers.
“As today’s case makes clear,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “we now live in a world where, for just $40, a cybercriminal halfway across the globe can – with just a click of a mouse – unleash a RAT that can spread a computer plague not only on someone’s property, but also on their privacy and most personal spaces.”
The RAT contained tools known as “spreaders” that helped spread the RAT to other computers.
Assistant FBI Director George Venizelos said, “We tackled this malware starting with those that put it in the hands of the users – the creators and those who helped make it readily available – the administrators."