Posted by Kevin on May 20, 2014.
First official indications emerged at the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit (although there have been rumblings in hacker circles for a couple of weeks now). This was last Wednesday. The FBI executive assistant director Robert Anderson, appointed in March to oversee ‘all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide, international operations, critical incident response, and victim assistance’, announced:
There is a philosophy change. If you are going to attack Americans, we are going to hold you accountable. If we can reach out and touch you, we are going to reach out and touch you.
Within days it emerged that the FBI is reaching out to touch buyers and users of the BlackShades remote access trojan — not just the FBI, but law enforcement agencies around the world. It was officially a two-day operation involving the law enforcement and judicial agencies of more ten different countries, coordinated in Europe out of Eurojust with representatives from Eurojust, Europol’s EC3 and the FBI present.
To put the size of the operation in context, action took place in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, UK, Finland, Austria, Estonia, Denmark, USA, Canada, Chile, Croatia and Italy. 359 house searches were undertaken; over 1,100 data storage devices were seized; and 97 arrests have been made. Seventeen arrests were in the UK.
BlackShades is a remote administration tool; but coupled with malware it becomes a remote access trojan. It can be bought on the internet for anything between £40 and £100 depending on the variant purchased. Although there is (at the time of writing this) no official confirmation of any arrests in the US, the FBI’s influence is clear throughout. Indeed, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) specifically describes the operation as ‘initiated by the FBI’. And noticeably, the bshades.eu website has been seized by the FBI.
There is little doubt that BlackShades is a serious threat. The NCA suspects that its UK users may have stolen 200,000 user names and passwords around the world. Nevertheless, it is simply not as well known, nor has done the same amount of damage, as some of the other well-known malwares. So why chose BlackShades rather than, for example, Zeus?
“I suspect,” David Harley, senior research fellow with ESET told me, “that BlackShades – and, maybe more to the point, its users – constituted a relatively easy target because it had operated within an area seen as legally ‘grey’. It looks to me as if those involved were often less scrupulous about covering their tracks than the career criminals associated with more heavyweight malware. It could be that they see themselves as borderline legal or at any rate of less interest to law enforcement, despite their association with the somewhat notorious Cool Exploit kit.”
The ‘grey area’ is that a remote administration tool is not illegal; it is only when it is used as a remote access trojan that it becomes so. Consider this, for example, from a German BlackShades user highlighted by Rickey Gevers:
Click it for full size. The author writes, “Hey guys, guess what happened today.” He had a visit from the German police who took away his computer because it contains BlackShades.
But he’s not worried because he only used it for testing purposes on his own computers — that is, as a remote administration tool.
But the other point to note is the date and his reference to rumours going on for days or weeks. It would seem that this operation has been going on for longer — and is probably a lot wider — than the official announcements so far. And remember also that we have not yet heard of any US arrests.
Last word goes to Rickey Gevers:
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If all the above is true we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. And are probably being witness of one of the biggest international raids ever related to cybercrime.