BlackShades cybercops demonstrate improving global cooperation

The international raids that led to the arrests of nearly 100 people suspected of trading in the notorious BlackShades Trojan shows that countries are learning how to cooperate at a large scale in chasing cybercriminals, experts say.

The two days of raids conducted last week by police in 16 countries, including the U.S., involved 359 house searches and the seizure of more than 1,100 computers, laptops, mobile phones, routers and other tech gear, according to Eurojust, the European Union's Judicial Cooperation Unit. Eurojust led the operation.

"We expect a significant reduction in activity involving this malware," security firm Symantec said in its blog Monday.

The busts show that law enforcement agencies are cooperating in investigating cybercriminals, who typically operate across the jurisdictions of several countries, Roger Thompson, chief emerging threats researcher for ICSA Labs, an independent division of Verizon, said.

"They're starting to figure out how to streamline operations, so they can share information when they need to," Thompson said. "I think that's huge."

The busts also demonstrate the effectiveness of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, which was formed to coordinate international law enforcement operations. The EC3 worked with Eurojust in the BlackShades effort.

"This really demonstrates the value of the European Cybercrime Centre," Raj Samani, vice president and chief technology officer for Intel-owned McAfee in Europe, said.

The majority of computers infected with BlackShades since the beginning of 2013 were in the U.S., with significant numbers in Germany, the U.K., the Netherlands and France, according to Symantec.

BlackShades became popular in the criminal underground because of its versatility, experts say. The feature-rich toolkit with a point-and-click interface was used by entry-level hackers, as well as sophisticated cybercriminal organizations.

"What's interesting about BlackShades is the insight into the evolution of malware," Mike Lloyd, chief technology officer of RedSeal Networks, said. "It's now a real economy, with regular license fees charged for the use of highly destructive software."

BlackShades sold for $40 to $50 on the website, which was taken down by police. The RAT came with a terms of service that sought to protect the sellers by saying they were not responsible for how the software was used, Samani said. McAfee also has evidence that the sellers were trying to recruit resellers.

"This is a really wonderful example of how easy it is for anybody to become a cybercriminal, because of the proliferation of products and services that aid cybercrime," Samani said.

The number of computers infected with BlackShades is not clear, but experts say its use accelerated after 2010, which is when the program's source code was leaked on the Internet. Experts consider the Trojan particularly nasty because it enables criminals to seize control of the victim's computer, including its webcam, and to encrypt files.

A U.S. university student used the program in 2013 to take nude photos of girls and women through the webcams of their computers. One of the victims was Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.

Jared James Abrahams, 20, pleaded guilty to extortion and computer hacking and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in March.

The latest busts came a few days after the FBI said it would get more aggressive in chasing down cybercriminals. Robert Anderson, executive assistant director of the FBI's cybercrime unit, also said the agency expected to make multiple arrests over the next several weeks, Reuters reported.

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