Detectives investigating a website which sold a hacking tool purchased by cyber criminals in 124 countries have charged a man in St Helens.
An international operation was launched after 14,500 people across the world bought the Imminent Monitor Remote Access Trojan (IM RAT) from imminentmethods.net for as little as $25USD.
Once covertly installed on a victim’s computer, IM RAT allowed the hacker full access to the infected device, enabling them to disable anti-virus software, steal data or passwords, record key strokes and watch victims via their webcams.
The operation was led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) leading the UK investigation supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
An international week of action has taken place with enforcement activity across nine countries targeting sellers and users of the tool.
It saw 21 search warrants executed across the UK, in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Milton Keynes, Hull, London, Leeds, Walsall, Lancashire, Nottingham, Surrey, Essex and Somerset. All targeted suspected users of the RAT.
Those warrants lead to the recovery of more than 100 exhibits and 14 people arrested or interviewed.
Among them was a 27-year-old man from Parr, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who was charged and convicted of three offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act and three offences contrary to the Sexual Offences Act. He will appear at Liverpool Crown Court on December 23 for sentencing.
Europe-wide there were 85 warrants executed, with more than 400 items seized.
Australian police effected a takedown of the website this morning and the IM RAT tool can no longer be used.
Phil Larratt, from the NCA, said: “Working with the NWROCU, AFP and a range of international and European partners, we were able to support the takedown of a website that was distributing malware and facilitating hacking offences.
“The IM RAT was used by individuals and organised crime groups in the UK to commit a range of offences beyond just the Computer Misuse Act, including fraud, theft and money laundering.
“Cyber criminals who bought this tool for as little as $25 were able to commit serious criminality, remotely invading the privacy of unsuspecting victims and stealing sensitive data.
“As part of Team Cyber UK, the NCA works with a wide range of law enforcement, government and private sector partners to effectively disrupt and deter this type of criminal activity.”
Ch Con Andy Cooke, national lead for crime, said: “Cyber crime is increasingly part of the serious and organised crime landscape and this example of international co-ordinated law enforcement activity shows the UK’s absolute commitment to tackling and undermining this constantly evolving threat.”
Det Insp Andy Milligan, from the NWROCU, said: “This has been a complex, challenging cyber investigation with international scope. We have been supported throughout by the AFP, the NCA and our partners in Europol and Eurojust. The UK’s regional organised crime unit (ROCU) network and force specialist cyber crime units were pivotal during this phase of enforcement activity.
"The illicit use of IM RAT is akin to a cyber burglary, with criminals stealing data, including images and movies, secretly turning on web cams, monitoring key strokes and listening in to people’s conversations via computer microphones.
“Cyber crime is not an anonymous victimless crime as some believe. There are real world consequences to people’s actions in cyber space and the international activity this week has shown how serious the UK treats this sort of criminality.
“People should protect themselves by following National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) advice, ensuring operating systems are always up to date, that they use anti-virus and they don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails. NCSC guidance is available here www.ncsc.gov.uk."