In July the FBI has declared that software it used during a sting operation, and which judges have tried to throw out of court for not having appropriate warrants, could not be malware because the FBI did not have malicious intent.

Should the government or anyone else have the right to ‘infect’ smartphones or laptops of people, even if they are suspected criminals or terrorists?

Before I give you my answer let’s go back in time.


A Brief History of Blackshades

Back is 2013 Blackshades was the most popular and powerful malware of the remote access Trojan (RAT) type. It was used by a wide spectrum of people, from entry level hackers right up to sophisticated cybercriminal groups. Blackshades was sold on a dedicated website for US$40-$50. Competitively priced, with a rich feature list, Blackshades provided the attackers with complete control over an infected machine. A simple point and click interface allowed them to steal data, browse the file system, take screenshots, record video, and interact with instant messaging applications and social networks. Here is a short summary of its capabilities:

  • Blackshades provided an attacker with complete control over the victim’s machine in an invisible way.
  • The victim’s computer could get infected from opening links in email or social media sites or from Web attacks exploiting vulnerabilities in some browser plug-ins that let the victim play videos and music.
  • Once infected, criminals had the ability to steal data like user names and passwords, to browse and copy files on the computer, to access instant message and social media accounts and take command of the Webcam to turn it on and record images.

On May 19, 2014, in what was called largest ever international cyber crackdown, law enforcement officials announced that more than 90 people were arrested in 19 countries for use and distribution of Blackshades that has infected more than 500,000 computers worldwide.

U.S. authorities arrested the creators of Blackshades. They all pleaded guilty.

After prolonged trials, the main culprits got 5 years in jail or probation, the rest some lighter sentences.

Among Blackshades’ victims was Cassidy Wolf, the California beauty crowned Miss Teen USA in 2013, who received an anonymous email from a sender claiming to have nude photos of her taken off the webcam on her laptop.

A high profile arrest was made later in the UK too. A Leeds-based hacker used BlackShades to spy on people via their webcams. He had used his ex-girlfriend’s details to purchase the malware. Investigators from the National Crime Agency found images on the computer of Stefan Rigo, 34, including ones of people involved in sexual activity, some of whom were on Skype at the time. Rigo was arrested in November 2014 during an international investigation. He has been given a 20-week suspended sentence and placed on the sex offenders’ register for seven years.

Let me go back to my original question now. Could the use of any variety of Blackshades ever be ethically justified? My short answer is ‘YES’. My longer answer is in my book,  THE SEX TOURIST.



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