A cyber hacking tool that allowed criminals to take full control of victims’ machines is no longer available after an international operation instigated and led by the South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit.
The Luminosity Link RAT (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.
(Slow internet connection, modified files, and unknown programs running/installed are all signs that your device may have a RAT)
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.
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.
(Image: Luminosity Link download page)
The National Crime Agency identified suspects and passed their details to cybercrime specialists in the Regional Organised Crime Units.
Senior investigating officer David Cox, of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, 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. Our initial enquiries have identified that some of the individuals under investigation have used the Luminosity Link RAT on 100s of innocent victims and we have recovered data, images and files from suspect’s’ computers, which we believe , have been unlawfully obtained from those computers infected with Luminosity Link.
“Twelve people have been interviewed, 10 of whom remain under investigation. Two people have been identified as being suitable for a cyber-crime diversionary program in the South West, which is designed to guide young people away from pathways that lead them to on-line crime,” explained DI Heath.
Since September of last year the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU) has executed 12 search warrants at addresses across the region. All the addresses targeted were highlighted as those where the occupant had purchased and downloaded Luminosity Link.
Properties searched were: Devon and Cornwall – three (Tavistock, Brixham and Penzance); Avon and Somerset (Bristol); Dorset (Dorchester); Wiltshire (four in Chippenham, Warminster and Swindon); and Gloucestershire (three in Gloucester and Cheltenham). More than 50 computers and digital devices were seized and more than 120 terabytes of data will have to be examined.
The public and businesses can follow simple steps to help protect themselves from malware, including:
- Making sure operating systems are up-to-date with the latest security patches
- Not clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails if something does not feel quite right.
- Creating strong passwords (e.g. ThreeRandomWords)
The latest protection advice is available from the National Cyber Security Centre at www.ncsc.gov.uk
The South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit is comprised of dedicated individuals who investigate serious cybercrime, offer advice and guidance to small businesses, and work with a range of partners to prevent people from engaging in cybercrime. For more articles and case studies like this, follow us here, on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@swrccu).
We also have a node on the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership (CiSP), and we strongly encourage organisations to sign up for real time cyber threat information in a secure, confidential and dynamic environment https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/cisp.