Data-stealing hacker tool taken out of circulation thanks to National Crime Agency

A cyber hacking tool that allowed criminals to take full control of victims’ machines is no longer available after an operation co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency. The Luminosity Link RAT (Remote Access Trojan) enabled hackers to connect to a victim’s machine undetected. They could then disable anti-virus and anti-malware software, carry out commands such as monitoring and recording keystrokes, steal data and passwords and watch victims via their webcams.

The RAT cost as little as £30 and users needed little technical knowledge to deploy it. A small network of UK individuals supported the distribution and use of the RAT across 78 countries and sold it to more than 8,600 buyers via a website dedicated to hacking and the use of criminal malware. Investigators believe there are thousands of victims worldwide.

Law enforcement activity has now ended the availability of this tool and it can no longer be used by those who bought it. In a week of action in September last year – the details of which can only now be released because of operational reasons – police and law enforcement agencies across the UK and Europe worked together to target the purchasers of Luminosity Link.

The investigation was instigated and led by the UK’s South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit which is part of South West policing’s Regional Organised Crime Unit.

Luminosity Link was initially discovered on the computer of a suspect in Bristol who was arrested in September 2016 on suspicion of Computer Misuse Act offences in a separate investigation.

Investigators developed more than 490 intelligence packages which were disseminated to law enforcement agencies across 13 countries in Europe, the US and Australia, including 160 within the UK. Since September last year, search warrants, arrests and cease and desist notifications have been conducted across Europe, Australia and America. Europol researched, developed and disseminated European packages.

Multiple victims identified

Forensic analysis continues on suspects’ computers. So far, UK investigators have identified multiple victims and evidence of stolen personal details, logon credentials, passwords, private photographs, video footage and data. The number of victims is expected to rise significantly as seized devices are examined.

The National Crime Agency identified suspects and passed their details to cyber crime specialists in the Regional Organised Crime Units.

Senior investigating officer David Cox of the National Crime Agency’s National Cyber Crime Unit said: “Luminosity Link is an evil hacking tool that can devastate victims’ lives. Through our work with forces and international partners, the RAT is no longer available for sale and no longer works. More than 100 exhibits were seized during the UK operation which investigators are currently working through.”

Detective Inspector Ed Heath, head of the South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit, added: “The sale and deployment of this hacking tool was uncovered following a single arrest and the subsequent forensic examination of the computer. More than a year’s worth of complex work with international policing partners led us to identify a large number of offenders.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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