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Hundreds of homes searched in crackdown on ‘creepware’ hackers

Exterior view of the Europol headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, May 19, 2014. European law enforcement agencies say they have helped coordinate raids in 16 countries that led to 97 arrests of people suspected of developing, distributing or using criminal software known as "BlackShades." Coordination agencies Europol and Eurojust, based in The Hague, Netherlands, said Monday national police in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain, Finland, Austria, Estonia, Denmark, Italy, Croatia, the United States, Canada, Chile, Switzerland and Moldova carried out 359 raids in all.

Mike Corder/AP

Law enforcement authorities in 16 countries, including Canada, have cracked down on the spread of a piece of malware used to hack into personal computers and spy on people.

At least 97 people were arrested, 359 homes were searched and 1,100 data storage units seized around the world, according to Europol, a European Union law enforcement co-ordination agency. The RCMP says 16 homes in Quebec were searched and computers seized last week but no arrests have yet been made.

Constable Philippe Gravel, an investigator with the RCMP's Integrated Technological Crime Unit in Quebec, says the software undoubtedly made it to other parts of Canada, but no search warrants have yet been executed outside Quebec. The FBI only shared information with international agencies including the RCMP earlier this year after several years of investigation, Constable Gravel said.

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"We have a certain expertise in this area in Quebec that allowed us to move ahead with the investigation," said Constable Gravel. "It was a long investigation for the FBI."

The program known as Blackshades was sold and distributed to thousands of computer users in 100 countries, and used to gain control of over half a million computers and access private files. In the most widely publicized case, an acquaintance spied on Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf with the camera on her own computer using the Blackshades malware, known in some circles as "creepware."

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the New York district, called the Blackshades "Remote Access Tool" a pernicious piece of software available for about $40 U.S. that allowed cybercriminals "to steal your property and invade your privacy."

"It is inexpensive and simple to use, but its capabilities are sophisticated and its invasiveness breathtaking," Mr. Bharara told reporters in New York. "These threats posed by Blackshades knew no geographic boundaries. Nor did our investigative efforts. The scale and scope of international co-operation in this investigation has been remarkable and unprecedented."

The FBI arrested three members of the Blackshades organization, including the two alleged creators of the remote access tool, Alex Yucel, a citizen of Sweden, and Arizona resident Michael Hogue.

An indictment against Mr. Yucel unsealed Monday accuses him of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, distribution ofmalicious software, identity theft, fraud and theft.

A third man from the organization, Brendan Johnson, is accused of helping to sell and distribute the software.

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Two users were also charged by the FBI. New Jersey resident Marlen Rappa is accused of using the software to spy on at least 45 people using their own web cameras and to steal files and photos of at least 95 others over two years starting in February, 2012. New York resident Kyle Fedorek is accused of stealing account information of at least 400 people.

The underground online world has been abuzz for much of May about computer seizures from people who purchased the Blackshades software. In one recent case in the Netherlands, an 18-year-old man is accused of using the malware to infect at least 2,000 computers. He allegedly controlled victim's webcams to take pictures of women and girls, according to Europol.

The malware was not only used to spy on people. It was also used in bank fraud and extortion attempts, according to the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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