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Law enforcement arrests 97 hackers for spying on half a million computers

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Okko Pyykkö / Flickr

A global crackdown on buyers, sellers, and users of a software tool called Blackshades, which allows for remote control of a victim's computer, has resulted in the arrests of 97 hackers in 16 countries. Blackshades infected nearly half a million computers, according to the FBI, resulting in stolen financial information, identity theft, and extortion of the victims.

Blackshades has legitimate uses similar to remote-control software like GoToMyPC, which allow people to control their work computers from home and vice versa. It has a number of extra features that are more useful for malicious purposes than benign ones, however, such as the ability to send distributed denial of service or DDoS attacks. It also allows for webcam control, keylogging, redirecting or blocking URLs, downloading more malware, and asking for ransoms in exchange for returning control of the victim's computer.

FBI says 500,000 computers were attacked

The tool was advertised for spying on spouses, children, and anyone who might be tampering with your computer, according to Adam Kujawa, who first wrote about the Blackshades threat in 2012. Of course, hackers weren't just installing it on their own machines.

The Blackshades website has now been seized by the FBI. The US attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed three new indictments related to the sweep and two from 2013. The defendants include Alex Yucel, the alleged owner and operator of Blackshades, who was indicted in December of 2013 on charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, distribution of malicious software, conspiracy to commit access device fraud, and identity theft.

It looks like the FBI let the operation go on for months after nabbing Yucel in order to scoop up more hackers. The Blackshades organization made around $350,000 between September 2010 and April 2014, according to the FBI.

Blackshades was a powerful piece of software, but it's just one example of a new trend toward easy-to-use hacker tools that can be bought and deployed without much skill. The crackdown suggests that law enforcement around the world is starting to take such threats seriously.