It’s probably a much better idea to become a medical assistant than a hacker these days. That’s the lesson that creators and users of a nearly ubiquitous software called Blackshades Remote Access Tool – or Blackshades RAT (a short and apropos nickname) – learned on May 19, the day the FBI announced the guilty plea of an American named Michael Hogue – and a Swede named Alex Yucel, along with two others.
Their crimes? Well, the 24-year-old Yucel and 23-year-old Hogue were both charged as the co-creators of the Blackshades RAT malware, software that let thieves steal passcodes from unsuspecting users online, plus their bank account credentials and allowed them access to personal photos and documents from the devices they hacked into.
The dangerous part of Blackshades malware: The real reason to cover your webcams
As a pop culture and Internet deals reporter, I’ve been asked a time or two why I cover my MacBook Air’s camera – as well as the cameras on my iPhone, iPad and nearly all other devices in my home – with stickers that make it difficult to view anything through them. That’s when this journalist tells others about the websites and forums I’ve seen full of photos of folks who have no idea hackers have hacked into their webcams and have begun taking photos and videos unbeknownst to the user, sometimes in embarrassing situations. And although the FBI’s helpful article that tells people how to check if their computers are infected by Blackshades gives a tip about checking to see if their webcams have been activated by someone other than the user by searching for the green web camera light, I’ve read reports that hackers have been able to activate a user’s camera without illuminating the light. Therefore, in conjunction with searching for the telltale files with BSS extensions that the FBI says marks as an indication that a Microsoft Windows-based computer has been afflicted with the Blackshades virus, another good interim solution is to get all open webcam camera eyes covered at once.
Blackshades buyers and marketers in trouble, too
Lest one think that only the creators of the devious software are the ones being brought down by the law, USA Today reports that 41-year-old Marlen Rappa, an alleged buyer of the RAT software, who used it to spy on people and steal data online, was arrested at home on Monday in Middletown Township, New Jersey. There was another arrest of a RAT buyer at home on Monday when 26-year-old Kyle Fedorek was charged with similar charges in the FBI complaint.
Meanwhile, the Blackshades firm, which was reportedly run like a legitimate company – replete with a sales force and software updates – was the breeding ground and cause for an arrest of one of its “employees,” when 23-year-old Brendan Johnston was arrested Sunday in Thousand Oaks, California. His role was reportedly that of providing tech support to users of the nefarious software, along with getting paid to promote the malware to other potential users.
Most of the criminal complaints share similar charges of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, among others. The FBI relayed the message that hackers shouldn’t expect to hide in other countries without being found and brought to justice for their Internet crimes.