Police across Europe are highlighting the growing threat of teenagers and young adults using Trojans and DDoS attacks to commit theft and extortion after arresting 15 suspects in the UK and six other countries.
The arrests, made this week, include four people in Britain and 11 others in France, Italy, Norway, Estonia, Romania and Latvia, in an operation co-ordinated by the Europol law enforcement agency.
Europol said the 15 are “EU citizens, mainly teenagers and young adults, who are suspected of misusing remote access Trojans (RATs) to commit various types of cyber-crime, which can include theft of personal information, DDoS attacks and extortion”.
Raymond Ijsselstijn, senior analyst at Europol's European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3), told SCMagazineUK.com that those seized “include minors, below 18 years old - they are students, school pupils.” Other suspects are in their late teens, early 20s and late 20s, he said.
Ijsselstijn warned: “Young people grow up with the internet, they see RATs as a relatively harmless tool to hack their friends or former girlfriends, but it's a cyber-crime in itself and could be the starting point of their cyber-criminal career.
“They see how easy it is to take over someone's computer – the next step could be more serious cyber-crimes, such as taking over bank accounts, encrypting malware, DDoS-ing large companies.
“Young people should be aware that using RATs is not just something you do for fun.”
The police operation, led by France, aimed to identify individuals misusing RATs such as Blackshades, PoisonIvy and DarkComet and “to inform the general public about the threat posed by this type of malware”.
It involved EC3 supporting the seven national police forces involved by collating intelligence and providing analytical support.
EC3 head Troels Oerting said: “Today an alliance of EU law enforcement agencies joined forces to send a strong signal to the criminals using this toxic RAT malware and, at the same time, engage with the predominantly younger individuals involved, to discourage them from pursuing this criminal path.”
But the four UK arrests, made by the National Crime Agency, largely buck this trend. They include a 20-year-old man seized in Chatham, Kent, and two 33-year old men and a 30-year old woman all arrested in Leeds on Thursday.
UK police also executed a search warrant on a 19-year-old man from Liverpool who was brought in for voluntary questioning on Friday.
Ijsselstijn told SC: “The focus in the UK was on those who were a little more prominent in offering the RATs and easier to identify. There are many more young people out there who use those Trojans to carry out cyber-crimes. For now the UK focus was initially onthose four .”