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FBI's huge hacker bust could be bogus

FBI's huge hacker bust could be bogus

In one of the largest coordinated crackdowns in the history of hacking and law enforcement, hundreds of people have been raided, questioned, or arrested for being connected with a commercially available program that sells for as little as $40 on the open market. It’s called Blackshades, and it’s a remote access tool, or RAT as it is known in the computer industry.

Europol claimed 359 raids connected to the Blackshades investigation, with the FBI confirming 97 arrests in 16 countries. The arrests were trumpeted with press conferences on both sides of the Atlantic. But it’s unclear how many actually used the software for criminal activity—instead of merely possessing it. And it’s unclear whether the charges against all of these supposed hackers will actually stick.

According to an AP report, the French police arrested citizens the FBI identified as having used or even acquired the software. One French publication reported over 70 search warrants executed on May 13th, all related to Blackshades.

The 16 governments bringing charges may have a tough time with their cases if they were arresting people for possession of the software package. Without logs or other evidence of the purchasers using the software against unsuspecting targets, most of those governments will have to prove that the purchasers intended to use the software in an illegal way. The software was often marketed as being for illicit intrusion, but marketing material isn’t evidence.

Europol claimed the raids had seized firearms, drugs, and cash unrelated to the software, and those people will likely face additional charges.

Michael Hogue, one of the alleged creators of Blackshades, was arrested in connection to a credit card sting operation in July of 2012 and released on $20,000 bail. He pled guilty and cooperated with the authorities. The four indictments issued Monday by the U.S. Attorney╒s office in the Southern District of New York included Hogue’s alleged co-creator of Blackshades, Moldova-based Alex Yⁿcel; Brendan Johnston, who did sales and marketing for the product; and two customers, Marlen Rappa and Kyle Fedorek, who allegedly bought Blackshades and used it to compromise unauthorized computers.

The FBI claims that over 700,000 computers have been taken over by Blackshades worldwide, allowing for a host of possible abuses. It is unclear how many perpetrators might have been involved, or the nature of the exploitation of those computers.

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