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Data hacking tool neutralised by NCA

14 February 2018

A CYBER hacking tool that allowed criminals to take full control of victims’ machines is no longer available after an operation coordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The Luminosity Link RAT, which is a remote access trojan, enabled hackers to connect to a victim’s machine undetected. They could then disable anti-virus and anti-malware software, carry out commands such as monitoring and recording keystrokes, steal data and passwords, and watch victims via their webcams.

The RAT cost as little as £30 and users needed little technical knowledge to deploy it. A small network of UK individuals supported the distribution and use of the RAT across 78 countries and sold it to more than 8,600 buyers via a website dedicated to hacking and the use of criminal malware. Investigators believe there are thousands of worldwide victims.

Law enforcement activity has now ended the availability of this tool and it can no longer be used by those who bought it. In a week of action in September 2017 – the details of which can now only be released because of operational reasons - police and law enforcement agencies across the UK and Europe worked together to target purchasers of Luminosity Link.

The investigation was instigated and led by the UK’s South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit, which is part of the south west policing’s Regional Organised Crime Unit. Luminosity Link was initially discovered on the computer of a suspect in Bristol who was arrested in September 2016 on suspicion of Computer Misuse Act offences in a separate investigation.

Investigators developed more than 490 intelligence packages which were disseminated to law enforcement agencies across 13 countries in Europe, the US and Australia, including 160 within the UK. Since September 2017 search warrants, arrests, and cease and desist notifications have been conducted across Europe, Australia and America. Europol researched, developed and disseminated European packages.

Forensic analysis continues on suspects’ computers. So far UK investigators have identified multiple victims and evidence of stolen personal details, logon credentials, passwords, private photographs, video footage and data. This is expected to rise significantly as seized devices are examined.

The National Crime Agency identified suspects and passed their details to cyber crime specialists in the Regional Organised Crime Units. NCA National Cyber Crime Unit senior investigating officer David Cox said: “Luminosity Link is an evil hacking tool that can devastate victims’ lives. Through our work with forces and international partners the RAT is no longer available for sale and no longer works. More than 100 exhibits were seized during the UK operation which investigators are currently working through.”

Detective Inspector Ed Heath, head of the South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit, said: “The sale and deployment of this hacking tool were uncovered following a single arrest and the subsequent forensic examination of the computer.

“More than a year’s complex work with international policing partners led us to identify a large number of offenders.”

The public and businesses can follow simple steps to help protect themselves from malware. These include making sure operating systems are up-to-date with the latest security patches and not clicking on links or attachments in emails if something does not feel quite right.

The latest protection advice is available from the National Cyber Security Centre at www.ncsc.gov.uk