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97 people in 16 nations charged with using hijacking software

US Attorney Preet Bharara discussed the arrests in the Blackshades case. More than a half- million computers have been infected by the sophisticated malware, the authorities say.Richard Drew/Associated Press

NEW YORK — More than a half-million computers in over 100 countries have been infected by malware that lets cybercriminals remotely hijack a computer and its webcam, authorities said as charges were disclosed Monday against 97 people.

Authorities said the people, suspected of using or distributing the malicious software, called Blackshades, were arrested in 16 countries. Included was the software’s owner, a 24-year-old Swedish man.

‘‘This case is a strong reminder that no one is safe while using the Internet,’’ said Koen Hermans, a Netherlands official in Eurojust, the European Union’s criminal investigation coordination unit.

US Attorney Preet Bharara called Blackshades a ‘‘frightening form of cybercrime,’’ saying a cybercriminal could buy a $40 program whose capabilities were ‘‘sophisticated and its invasiveness breathtaking.’’


FBI agent Leo Taddeo said people who suspect they are Blackshades victims should go to FBI.gov to learn how to check their computers.

Authorities said the Blackshades Remote Access Tool has been sold since 2010 to several thousand users, generating sales of more than $350,000. They said that one of the program’s cocreators is cooperating and has provided extensive information.

Blackshades’ owner, Alex Yucel, arrested in Moldova in November, is facing extradition to the United States.

Michael Hogue, 23, of Maricopa, Ariz. — the program’s cocreator — pleaded guilty in New York after his June 2012 arrest and is cooperating, Bharara said.

The malware lets hackers steal personal information, intercept keystrokes, and hijack webcams to secretly record computer users.

Blackshades can also be used to encrypt and lock computer data files, forcing people to pay a ransom to regain access.

French officials said that raids last week followed the FBI’s arrest of two Blackshades developers and distribution of a list of the malware’s customers.

Law enforcement coordination agencies Europol and Eurojust said Monday that police in 13 European countries and in the United States, Canada, and Chile raided 359 properties and seized cash, firearms, drugs, and more than 1,000 data storage devices.