BlackShades users targeted in 16-country law enforcement action

Ninety-seven people were arrested worldwide for selling, buying or using the Trojan program

Law enforcement agencies from 16 countries on three continents last week arrested 97 people after executing raids targeting those suspected of creating, buying and using a notorious Trojan program called BlackShades.

Over two days, police carried out 359 house searches and seized over 1,100 computers, laptops, mobile telephones, routers, external hard drives and USB memory sticks, Eurojust said Monday on its website. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service said that the global operation was coordinated from Eurojust in The Hague.

Rumors about the police searches related to BlackShades have appeared on underground forums since early this month and intensified last week, according to Rickey Gevers, a cybercrimine investigator who has been tracking the reports.

The operation saw the participation of law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, the U.K., Finland, Denmark, Austria, Estonia, the U.S., Canada, Chile, Switzerland, Croatia, Moldova and Italy, the Dutch prosecutors said.

BlackShades is a remote access tool, or RAT, and although its creators tried to publicly market it as a program for legitimate computer monitoring, it was also sold to many hackers and cybercriminals.

Once installed on a computer, BlackShades allows the operator to perform a wide range of privacy-invading and potentially malicious actions, including viewing the computer screen; uploading, downloading and executing files; recording keystrokes; encrypting files; and controlling the webcam. All infected computers can be managed from a remote administration interface, similar to a botnet.

In a criminal case opened in Rotterdam, a 19-year-old man is suspected of using BlackShades to gain access to over 2,000 webcams and take pictures of female users, the Dutch prosecutors said.

Researchers from Symantec reported in November that BlackShades was still being sold and widely used in cybercriminal activities despite the program's source code being leaked in 2010 and one of the project's key players being arrested by the FBI in 2012.

The new law enforcement operation seems to be partially based on information obtained by the FBI from one of the malware's co-creators.

The U.S. Department of Justice released criminal complaints Monday against three people who used BlackShades to infect computers and two who also sold it. Among those charged with distributing the malware is a man named Michael Hogue, who used the online alias xVisceral and who was arrested on June 26, 2012, as part of a different international law enforcement action dubbed "Operation Card Shop."

According to the complaints, the FBI's investigation into BlackShades determined that the malware was purchased by several thousand users in more than 100 countries and was used to infect over half a million computers worldwide. The malware was sold through several hacker forums and websites.

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is holding a press conference to discuss the action at noon Monday.

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