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Cyber crime site selling hacking tool taken down following international operation

by Brian Sims

A website which sold a hacking tool purchased by cyber criminals in 124 countries and gave full remote control of victims’ computers has been taken down following an international investigation. 14,500 people across the world purchased the Imminent Monitor Remote Access Trojan (IM RAT) from https://imminentmethods.net for as little as US$25.

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 international operation was led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) leading the UK investigation with UK activity co-ordinated and supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

On Monday 25 November, an international week of action commenced with enforcement activity taking place across nine countries targeting sellers and users of the tool. 21 search warrants were 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 nine arrests and the recovery of more than 100 exhibits.

Worldwide there were 85 warrants executed, 14 people arrested and more than 400 items seized.

Distribution of malware

Australian police effected a take-down of https://imminentmethods.net on the morning of Friday 29 November. Subsequently, the IM RAT tool can no longer be used by those that bought it.

Phil Larratt from the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit said: “Working with the NWROCU, the AFP and a range of international and European partners, we were able to support the take-down 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 voyeurism.”

Larratt added: “Cyber criminals who bought this tool for as little as US$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.”

Part of the serious and organised crime landscape

Chief constable Andy Cooke QPM, national policing lead for serious and organised crime, stated: “Cyber crime is increasingly part of the serious and organised crime landscape and this example of international co-ordinated law enforcement activity goes to show the UK’s absolute commitment to tackling and undermining this constantly evolving threat.”

Detective Inspector Andy Milligan from the NWROCU commented: “This has been a complex and 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 ROCU network and Force Specialist Cyber Crime Units were pivotal during this phase of enforcement activity.”

Milligan went on to state: “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 and victimless crime as some believe. There are real world consequences to people’s actions in cyber space.”

In conclusion, Milligan observed: “People should protect themselves by following National Cyber Security Centre advice, ensure that operating systems are always up-to-date, that they use anti-virus and that they don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious e-mails.”

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