A Devon man is among seventeen suspected users of software, designed to take over, control and steal information from personal computers, that have been arrested in the first ever UK-wide cyber crime operation.

The most common Blackshades product is a Remote Access Tool (RAT), which enables cyber criminals to remotely take over and control the operations of an infected computer and can be used to access the webcam of the victim, turning it on without the user’s knowledge and taking screen shots.

These can then be used to blackmail the victim.

This can then be used to access personal files and documents, and download new content, engage in unsolicited chat with the victim, infect USB devices to spread malware and to instruct the victim’s computer to help commit Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks and infect other computers via peer-to-peer communications.

The Blackshades inventory also includes a Password Recovery Application designed to capture usernames and passwords inputted on a victim’s machine. The criminal can then view the stolen data in a similar way to an email inbox.

People are typically infected by clicking on external links on social networking and communication platforms. Instead of viewing a picture or video, the victim unwittingly installs the malware. In many cases, those affected will have no indication they are infected.

Investigators believe that around 200,000 usernames and passwords of victims across the world may have been extracted by Blackshades users in the UK.

The UK investigation forms part of global activity targeting the developers and prolific users of Blackshades, a set of malware tools sold online for under £100. Initiated by the FBI and coordinated in Europe through Eurojust and the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, police forces internationally have apprehended dozens of suspected users.

Coordinated by the National Crime Agency, a week of arrests, searches and seizures has involved nearly every UK Regional Organised Crime Unit, as well as Police Scotland and the Metropolitan Police.

The arrests include the man in Brixham, Devon, a male in Derbyshire, four men in the West Midlands (Birmingham, Halesowen, Wolverhampton and Newcastle-under-Lyme), as well as in Andover, Hampshire, and Ashford, Kent, Liverpool, Manchester and Warrington, one male in Woodford Green, Essex, two males, in St Andrews and Glasgow, one male in London and one male in Leeds. Additional searches and interviews were also carried out, including in Wales.

Andy Archibald, Deputy Director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Criminals throughout the UK and across the world are finding out that committing crimes remotely offers no protection from arrest. The unique scale of this cyber operation shows what can happen when law enforcement agencies at local, national and international level work together to tackle the perpetrators and help keep people safe.

“Cyber crime is one of the most significant criminal threats to the UK. The NCA is helping to build the capacity of its partners across the country and coordinating the UK’s collective efforts as part of the response. The commitment of our police partners in the cyber arena has been clearly demonstrated by the work culminating in this week’s dramatic activity.”

National Policing lead on e-crime, Deputy Chief Constable Peter Goodman, said: “This has been a superbly co-ordinated intelligence-led international policing response to a specific emerging cyber crime threat, which could have given offenders access to personal security information held by citizens of the UK and overseas.

“It demonstrates the determination of the National Crime Agency, its partners overseas and the UK’s newly-established regional cyber crime units to identify, trace and disrupt those whose potential criminal activity presents a threat to the public’s lawful use of the intranet.

“It also sends out a clear message to cyber criminals that we have the technology, capability and expertise to track them down, and should, I hope, reassure the public that the police can and will respond effectively to the reports we receive about the criminal use of computer networks and malware to by-pass security measures we rely on to keep our personal data safe.”

In addition to arresting people believed to have used Blackshades, the NCA is using a variety of approaches to warn individuals who have downloaded the malware but not deployed it that they are now known to the agency. Any movement into criminality will result in further action.

The NCA urges members of the public to ensure they keep antivirus software regularly updated, and to back up their computer and other elctronic devices to ensure they can recover files, including important documents and photographs. Further advice on internet safety can be found at Getsafeonline and Cyberstreetwise Anyone who believes they have lost money through malware should report it at www.actionfraud.police.uk