Hackers using Rats arrested for webcam snooping in UK and Europe

Laptop by Jef Bettens

Several hackers using a process called 'Ratting' have been arrested in the UK and Europe.

A few days ago we reported on a Russian website that allows its visitors to view webcam streams from around the world. Nothing odd there, right? Well, the webcams being streamed are all privately owned, and are being broadcast live over the internet without the owners' knowledge. Reports yesterday indicate that arrests have been made in connection with similar occurrences throughout the UK and Europe.

The software used to access the computers and webcams is designed to remotely control the devices, and allows information to be stolen. Sometimes the process, known as 'Ratting', will allow access to the victim's webcam. The 'Remote Access Trojans' (or RATs) used to access the computers is where the term gets its name.

Arrests were also made in Estonia, France, Romania, Latvia, Italy, and Norway.

According to the Get Safe Online advice website the activity of Ratting has become 'increasingly common'.

Those arrested in the UK for the offences consisted two 33-year-old men, along with a 30-year-old woman from Leeds, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA) Further arrests were made of a 20-year-old man from Chatham, Kent, and a 19-year-old man in Liverpool has had his home searched, subsequently being taken in for 'voluntary questioning'.

Each are accused of knowingly using Rats to hack into numerous targets and spy on their webcams.

In a statement the NCA explained how a victim's computer is accessed, stating: "Victims are typically infected by being convinced to click on a link purporting to be a picture of video, or disguised as a legitimate file, but is instead an installer for the Rat.

"In many cases, those who unwittingly install such trojans will have no indication that their machine is infected."

ChildNet International and Ceop has some handy tips to keep your webcam protected, which we've listed below:

  • Webcams can be affected by viruses, so be wary of emails and social network messages from strangers
  • Make sure anti-virus and firewall protection is kept up to date
  • Avoid putting webcams in bedrooms or other private areas
  • Unplug the webcam, cover the lens or point it at a blank wall when it is not in use
  • Be sure you can trust the person you are chatting to and remember webcam footage can be recorded and potentially shared online
  • If you have been the victim of inappropriate sexual contact via webcam tell a trusted adult and report it to the police via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (Ceop)

Other users have been warned by the NCA that the Rats software is illegal, and any use of it would mean futher action from them.

Andy Archibald, deputy director of the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit said, "The illegal use of Remote Access Trojans is a significant cybercrime threat, demanding this kind of strong, co-ordinated response from international to local UK level.

"Suspected users of Rats are continuing to find that despite having no physical contact or interaction with their victims, they can still be identified, tracked down and arrested by the NCA and its partners."

Thanks, BBC News.