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Nine Britons arrested as website selling hacking tool taken offline

By Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter

A website selling a cheap hacking tool allowing cyber criminals to steal data and spy on victims through their webcam has been taken offline in a major international effort.

The Imminent Monitor Remote Access Trojan (IM RAT) could be obtained for as little as 25 dollars – just under £20 – and was purchased by 14,500 people in 124 countries, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

With the malicious software covertly installed on a victim’s computer, hackers could take full remote control, giving them the power to disable antivirus software, steal data or passwords, record key strokes and view footage from webcams.

A total of 21 search warrants were executed across the UK targeting suspected sellers and users of the tool, as part of an international week of action which started on Monday.

Searches were carried out in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Milton Keynes, Hull, London, Leeds, Walsall, Lancashire, Nottingham, Surrey, Essex and Somerset, leading to nine arrests and the recovery of more than 100 exhibits.

“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 voyeurism,” said Phil Larratt, from the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit.

“Cyber criminals who bought this tool for as little as 25 dollars were able to commit serious criminality, remotely invading the privacy of unsuspecting victims and stealing sensitive data.”

Of the 14 arrests worldwide, nine were in the UK (NCA/PA)

The North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) took charge of the UK investigation, which was led internationally by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Countries including Belgium, Sweden, Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain and Colombia also took part, resulting in 85 warrants executed worldwide, 14 people arrested and more than 400 items seized.

“Cyber crime is increasingly part of the serious and organised crime landscape and this example of international coordinated law enforcement activity shows the UK’s absolute commitment to tackling and undermining this constantly evolving threat,” said Chief Constable Andy Cooke, national policing lead for serious and organised crime.

Detective Inspector Andy Milligan, from the NWROCU, added: “The illicit use of IM RAT is akin to a cyber burglary, with criminals stealing data, including images and movies, secretly turning on webcams, 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.”

The IM RAT tool can no longer be used by those who bought it.