News Column

5 accused as Blackshades hackers

May 19, 2014

By Kevin McCoy, and Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

Federal prosecutors on Monday announced charges against alleged computer hackers linked to an international group called Blackshades that trafficked in malicious software enabling attackers to gain secret control of more than half a million computers worldwide.

Five individuals were accused in court charging documents released by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York City.

An affidavit by FBI Special Agent Samad Shahrani alleged that Blackshades has been in operation since at least 2010 and "distributed malicious software to thousands of cybercriminals throughout the world."

The alleged group's program of choice was the Blackshades Remote Access Tool -- or RAT -- which Shahrani's affidavit described as a "sophisticated piece of malware that enabled cybercriminals to remotely and surreptitiously gain control of a victim's computer."

After installing the RAT on a victim's computer, an attacker could "access and view documents, photographs and other files … record all of the keystrokes entered … steal the passwords to the victim's online accounts and even activate the victim's Web camera to spy on the victim," Shahrani wrote.

The investigation showed that the RAT has been purchased by at least several thousand users in more than 100 countries, the FBI affidavit alleged. Officials said they had recently arrested more than 90 people in 19 countries suspected of using or distributing the malicious software.

Ransom notes were used to force victims to pay hackers to release their computers, authorities said.

Bharara described the technology as "inexpensive and simple to use" but called its invasiveness "breathtaking."

"As today's case makes clear, we now live in a world where, for just $40, a cybercriminal halfway across the globe can -- with just a click of a mouse -- unleash a RAT that can spread a computer plague not only on someone's property, but also on their privacy and most personal spaces," Bharara said. Authorities are trying to track down anyone who may have purchased the software, he said.

The suspects accused include:

•Alex Yucel, 24, identified as the co-creator of RAT.

•Brendan Johnston, 23, who allegedly was paid by Blackshades to help sell malware.

•Kyle Fedorek, 26, identified as a RAT purchaser who used the program to steal from hundreds of victims.

•Marlen Rappa, 41, who allegedly used RAT to spy on dozens of victims. He was arrested at home in Middletown Township, N.J., Monday and appeared in Manhattan federal court.

•Michael Hogue, 23, identified as the co-creator of RAT.

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Source: USA Today

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