In one of the largest cybercrime crackdowns in history, the FBI and police from at least 16 other countries have arrested more than 100 people suspected of using a type of malware or 'creepware' called Blackshades. The malicious software has been sold around the world and led to the infection of more than half a million computers including that of Miss Teen USA.
Since the software provides a hacker with complete control over another person's computer, it is possible to tap into a webcam and capture images that can later be used for extortion. That was how Blackshades was used against Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, who received an email in March 2013 with naked photos of herself that were taken by a hacker.
Cybercrime crackdowns have taken place for many years but rarely do they occur in such a coordinated and international fashion. A total of 17 countries including the US, Canada, UK, and France participated in the effort and as a result, they were able to make the arrests with ease. Europol released a statement Monday to explain the effort and how the arrests took place.
"Over 1,100 data storage devices suspected of being used in illegal activities were seized, including computers, laptops, mobile telephones, routers, external hard drives and USB memory sticks. Substantial quantities of cash, illegal firearms and drugs were also seized," wrote Europol.
Weeks of planning led up to two "action days" during which police around the world raided 359 houses and arrested those involved in the sale, creation, and use of Blackshades malware. The additional cooperation during this initiative will help the international community to put a dent in cybercrime, even though new players will surely step in and keep the illegal Blackshades market open.
Unlike malware that is used to gain access to financial information, emails, or other personal data, creepware is used primarily to hack into webcams without a person knowing. With many computers being located in a person's bedroom, it is easy to see why creepware is such a threat, especially for someone like Cassidy Wolf who was a prime target for extortion given her celebrity-like status.
Creepware, otherwise known as a remote access trojan, is installed on computers through email links and other types of downloads. Even if the software is not used to tap into a webcam feed, it can be used to collect passwords or other personal information, since the hacker has complete control over a computer and can interact with it in real-time.
In the case of Blackshades, FBI Special Agent Samad Shahrani wrote in an affidavit that it is a "sophisticated piece of malware that enabled cybercriminals to remotely and surreptitiously gain control of a victim's computer." With almost no way to detect that the software is installed or is active on a computer, it can be nearly impossible for someone to know if their data is being stolen or if someone is watching them.