Four people have been arrested in the UK on suspicion of hijacking computers using a technique known as “ratting”, which takes its name from Remote Access Trojans (RATs).
Another 11 individuals in Estonia, France, Italy, Latvia, Norway and Romania were also arrested in connection with the same crime.
According to the National Crime Agency, those arrested in the UK are two 33-year-old men and a 30-year-old woman in Leeds, and a 20-year-old man in Chatham.
Meanwhile, a 19-year-old man in Liverpool had his home searched and was taken in by police for “voluntary questioning”.
Ratting is most commonly used to gain control over a remote computer’s webcam, meaning Ratters can switch on and off a victim’s webcam whenever they wish.
The four arrested in the UK were all accused of using RATs in this way – apparently spying on multiple targets from their own machines.
Victims are typically socially engineered to download small applications – often games – within which the RAT is hidden.
When the program is executed, the RAT will open ports and offer access controls to the remote user.
Phrases such as “remote access trojan download” are not blocked from search engine Google, and Computing was today able to find locations and instructions for use on the very first page.
Computer users can avoid becoming victims of RATs by keeping antivirus and firewall software up to date, and being cautious when accepting files from people or locations that aren’t completely trusted.
Seventeen individuals were arrested in the UK back in May 2014 on similar charges, amid a sweep of Europe that led to almost 100 arrests.
They were using the Blackshades RAT that could be purchased online for £100 and, as well as spying, has been linked with so-called “ransomware” attempts in which software is used to encrypt and lock a user’s hard drive, with money usually being extorted to release the data.