Acting on an FBI tip-off, police in 16 countries have arrested 97 people suspected of developing, distributing or using malicious software called BlackShades, European law enforcement officials announced yesterday.
The malware allows criminals to gain surreptitious control of personal computers, allowing hackers to steal personal information, intercept keystrokes and hijack webcams to make secret recordings of their users.
BlackShades also can be used to encrypt and lock a computer's data files, blocking the rightful owners from regaining access unless they pay a ransom.
French officials said last week's raids happened after the FBI arrested two BlackShades developers and distributed a list of their international customers who purchased the malware.
Co-ordination agencies Europol and Eurojust, based in The Hague, said police in 13 European countries - Austria, Belgium, Britain, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Moldova, the Netherlands and Switzerland - as well as in the US, Canada and Chile raided 359 properties and seized cash, firearms, drugs and more than 1,000 data storage devices.
"This case is a strong reminder that no one is safe while using the internet," said Eurojust official Koen Hermans. "It should serve as a warning and deterrent to those involved in the manufacture and use of this software."
In Paris, the state prosecutor's office said French detectives arrested more than two dozen people in raids and described the global nature of the arrests and searches as an unprecedented "new form of judicial action".
It said those arrested were identified by the FBI as French citizens "who had acquired or used this software".