NEW YORK — More than a half-million computers in over 100 countries were infected by sophisticated malware that lets cybercriminals remotely hijack a computer and its webcam, authorities said as charges were announced Monday against 97 people worldwide.
Authorities said the people, suspected of using or distributing the malicious software called BlackShades, have been arrested in 16 countries, including the software's owner, a 24-year-old Swedish man.
The malware lets hackers steal personal information, intercept keystrokes and hijack webcams to secretly record computer users. BlackShades also can be used to encrypt and lock computer data files, forcing people to pay a ransom to regain access.
"This case is a strong reminder that no one is safe while using the Internet," said Koen Hermans, a Netherlands official in Eurojust, the European Union's criminal investigation coordination unit.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called BlackShades a "frightening form of cybercrime," saying someone could buy a $40 malicious program whose capabilities were "sophisticated and its invasiveness breathtaking." FBI Agent Leo Taddeo said people suspecting they are BlackShades victims should visit FBI.gov to learn how to check computers.
Authorities said the BlackShades Remote Access Tool, or "RAT," has been sold since 2010 to several thousand users, generating more than $350,000. The FBI said one of the program's co-creators is cooperating and provided extensive information. BlackShades' owner, Alex Yucel, arrested in Moldova in November, is facing extradition to the U.S. Michael Hogue, 23, of Maricopa, Ariz., the program's co-creator, pleaded guilty in New York after his June 2012 arrest and is cooperating, Bharara said.