Hackers who paid $40 for a sinister software program called Blackshades stole sexually explicit photographs from personal computers, trained victims' webcams on them using a remote access tool, and even sent threats to victims who tried to block the online intrusions, prosecutors said Monday as they announced charges against users of Blackshades.
“It is without doubt one of the greatest threats to our country,” the U.S. attorney in
Prosecutors in New York did not provide details about victims of Blackshades and its flagship feature, Remote Access Tool, or RAT, which let users hijack victims’ computers. But last year, officials said they found evidence that Blackshades had been used to spy on
Bharara said one of Blackshades' alleged co-creators, Alex Yucel, a Swedish citizen, had been arrested in Moldova and was awaiting extradition to the United States. Also arrested was Brendan Johnston of Thousand Oaks, who is accused of selling Blackshades to others and providing technical support to customers between August 2011 and September 2012.
Others charged with offenses such as conspiracy to commit computer hacking and access device fraud include Kyle Fedorek of New York, who allegedly bought and used the software; Marlen Rappa, a Blackshades customer in New Jersey; and Michael Hogue, a co-creator of Blackshades. Hogue was arrested in June 2012 in Arizona and cooperated with the government in the investigation.
According to the
"Blackshades made taking over a computer so easy, even a cave man could do it," said Leo Taddeo, chief of the cybercrimes unit of the FBI office in New York.
The RAT feature enabled hackers to intrude on victims' privacy "in the most sinister way," Bharara said.
Among other things, prosecutors say users could "lock" victims' files, making them inaccessible; access victims' keystrokes; use a victim's webcam to spy on them; access their passwords; view their private photographs; and send messages and emails which, when clicked on by unwitting recipients, would cause further infection.
Yucel, 24, faces charges that each carry penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Johnston, 23, could face up to 10 years in prison on each of two counts of computer hacking.
Fedorek, 26, of Stony Point, N.Y., and Rappa, 41, of
Hogue, 23, of Maricopa, Ariz., has pleaded guilty to computer hacking and cooperated with prosecutors in a plea deal. He has not yet been sentenced.
Prosecutors said the arrests were the latest resulting from an investigation involving officials in 19 countries. So far, more than 90 people have been arrested in connection with Blackshades.
Bharara warned anyone who bought the software to come forward. "At a minimum, they should stop doing what they're doing," he said. Although it is hard to get everyone who bought Blackshades, he added, investigators continue to search for buyers, and the FBI has counted more than 6,000 customer accounts.