Australians and New Zealanders were among half a million
global victims of computer hackers who used the malicious
software Blackshades to hijack personal computers, control
webcams and, in some cases, demand ransom money.
For just $US40, hackers could buy Blackshades, then take
control of victims' computers, steal personal information, or
snap naked photos or videos without the victims knowing.
The FBI, in announcing the arrest of nearly 100 alleged
hackers and the creators and marketers of the software,
released a map of the world where potential victims were
The map indicated victims in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane,
Adelaide, Alice Springs and Perth, and the North and South
Islands of New Zealand.
In the past week, hackers in Australia, the US, Canada, Asia
and Europe complained in chatrooms about their homes being
raided and computers seized by authorities.
"As today's case makes clear, we now live in a world where,
for just $US40 ($A43), a cybercriminal halfway across the
globe can - with just a click of a mouse - unleash a RAT
(remote administration tool) that can spread a computer
plague not only on someone's property, but also on their
privacy and most personal spaces," Manhattan US Attorney
Preet Bharara said.
The FBI's investigation has shown that Blackshades was
purchased by at least several thousand users in more than 100
countries and used to infect more than half a million
One of the most high-profile victims was Miss Teen USA
Cassidy Wolf, who received an email from an unidentified
blackmailer who hijacked her computer and, while her laptop
was open in her bedroom, was able to take nude photos and
videos of her.
The blackmailer was later determined to be Jared Abrahams, a
20-year-old former classmate who was jailed for 18 months
after pleading guilty to extortion and unauthorised access of
Abrahams had threatened to distribute the photos to end
Wolf's "dream of being a model" unless she sent him better
quality photos and video and performed a five-minute sex show
Among the alleged perpetrators charged in the global takedown
was Alex Ycel, the 24-year-old Moldova-based owner of
Blackshades and Brendan Johnston, 23, of Los Angeles, who was
accused of being paid by Blackshades to help market and sell
the malware (malicious software).
Blackshades allegedly generated sales of $US350,000 between
September 2010 and April 2014 with more than 6,000 customer
accounts in more than 100 countries.
Victims often allowed criminals to infiltrate their computers
via Blackshades by clicking on a link in an email that they
mistook for a legitimate email.
In Wolf's case, she received an infected Facebook message
related to teen pageants.