California Man Pleads Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Selling ‘Blackshades’ Malware That Enabled Users Around the World to Secretly and Remotely Control Victims’ Computers
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that BRENDAN JOHNSTON, an administrator of Blackshades who helped market and sell malicious software, or malware, including the Blackshades’ Remote Access Tool (“RAT”), pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to conspiracy to commit computer hacking. As an administrator, JOHNSTON marketed and sold the RAT and other malware, and provided technical assistance to Blackshades’ customers. He pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Today Brendan Johnston, who helped market and sell the Blackshades RAT, became the latest individual to plead guilty to computer hacking offenses in connection with this case. This Office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to find and prosecute those who create, market, and employ malicious software.”
According to the allegations in documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at today’s plea and other court proceedings:
Beginning in at least 2010, an organization known as “Blackshades” sold and distributed malware to thousands of cybercriminals throughout the world. Blackshades’ flagship product was the RAT—a sophisticated piece of malware that enabled cybercriminals secretly and remotely to gain control over a victim’s computer. After installing the RAT on a victim’s computer, a user of the RAT had free rein to, among other things, access and view documents, photographs, and other files on the victim’s computer, record all of the keystrokes entered on the victim’s keyboard, steal the passwords to the victim’s online accounts, and even activate the victim’s web camera to spy on the victim—all of which could be done without the victim’s knowledge.
The RAT was purchased by at least several thousand users in more than 100 countries and used to infect more than half a million computers worldwide. Blackshades generated sales of more than $350,000 between September 2010 and April 2014.
JOHNSTON personally used Blackshades malware and was also a paid employee of the Blackshades organization who, among other things, marketed and sold the RAT, and provided technical assistance to users of the RAT to assist them in infecting and remotely controlling victims’ computers with the RAT. In certain online postings, JOHNSTON described himself as an “authorized seller” and “admin,” or administrator, of Blackshades.
* * *
JOHNSTON, 24, of Thousand Oaks, California, pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman to conspiracy to commit computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Furman on May 27, 2015, at 3:30 p.m. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress, and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Alex Yücel, the alleged owner of Blackshades and co-creator of the RAT, was arrested in Moldova in November 2013 and extradited to the United States in May 2014. His case is pending before United States District Judge Kevin P. Castel. The charges against Yücel are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Michael Hogue, the co-creator of the RAT, pled guilty before Judge Castel in January 2013 and is awaiting sentencing.
Kyle Fedorek, a customer of Blackshades who purchased the RAT and used it to steal financial and other account information from more than 400 victims, pled guilty on August 19, 2014, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein and is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick on January 30, 2015, at 2:30 p.m.
Marlen Rappa, a customer of Blackshades who purchased the RAT and used it to infect victims’ computers, spy on those victims using their web cameras, and steal personal files from their computers, pled guilty on October 31, 2014, before U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Caproni on January 29, 2015, at 2:00 p.m.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Lai and Daniel Noble are in charge of the prosecution.