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by Antone Gonsalves

DarkComet shut-down shows law enforcement works

Jul 09, 20123 mins
Application SecurityCybercrimeMalware

Malware author who shut down the tool says misuse had exposed him to possible prosecution

The author of the infamous DarkComet, a remote administration tool used to command malware-infected computers, says he has stopped development of the software to avoid arrest.

The ending of the DarkComet RAT project is an indication that law enforcement efforts are having an impact, says the security vendor Symantec.

The project’s demise follows shortly after the arrest of a suspected developer of the Blackshades RAT, similar software that was also used by malware creators. In June, a sting operation led by the FBI resulted in the arrest of two-dozen people worldwide, including Michael Hogue, who went by the name of xVisceral. 

DarkComet made headlines in February, when it was used in siphoning information from the computers of Syrian activists opposed to dictator Bashar al-Assad, security vendor Symantec said. The Syrian regime was behind the cyber-espionage campaign, which tricked victims into downloading the Backdoor.Breut Trojan.

In a statement published on the DarkComet website, the author said misuse of the tool had exposed him to possible prosecution. “Unlike so many of you seem to believe, I can be held responsible of (sic) actions, and if there is something I will not tolerate is to have to pay the consequences for your mistakes and I will not cover for you,” the statement, published on Symantec’s blog, said. It was apparently addressed to cybercriminals.

RATs are typically associated with malicious software spread by hackers to commandeer Internet-connected computers in order to steal personal information, such as credit card numbers, online banking passwords and corporate intellectual property. Once the malware is installed, RATs make it possible for hackers to control the compromised system and send stolen data to a remote server.

In the past, RAT authors believed they were immune to prosecution by claiming their software was for educational purposes, Symantec said. However, that argument has offered little in the way of protection, starting with the arrest two years ago of the alleged developer of the software behind the Mariposa botnet, which infected more than half of the Fortune 1,000 companies and at least 40 major banks, the blog KrebsonSecurity reported.

As a result, RAT authors, like the DarkComet developer, are getting nervous. “There is a fear of getting in trouble from these authors, even if they are not using the tools themselves,” Liam O Murchu, manager of operations for Symantec Security Response, said on Monday.

While some hackers are capable of writing their own RATs, many do not have the skills and depend on others to supply the tools. While DarkComet was available for free, other RAT developers sell their products on the underground

Whether law enforcement pressure will make it more difficult for cybercriminals to find RATs or lead to less innovation is not yet known, Murchu said. Symantec has seen a steady number of new developers replace those who quit.

“It’s hard to tell if that’s a trend that’s going to continue, where they will be constantly replaced by other people, or if over time, there won’t be people who will step up and take the risk,” Murch said. “We just have to wait and see what happens.”