A 24-year-old Australian man has been identified as the alleged mastermind behind intrusive spyware used by domestic violence perpetrators and other criminals.
The Melburnian was only 15 years old when he allegedly created the ‘Imminent Monitor’ Remote Access Trojan (RAT) which, once installed, allowed perpetrators to control victims’ computers, steal their personal information, and turn on their webcams and microphones.
The program cost about $35, and was allegedly advertised on an online forum dedicated to hacking.
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About 14,500 people across 128 countries purchased the software for use, leading the Australian Federal Police to believe there were tens of thousands of victims of the spyware globally.
In Australia, more than 200 people bought the software, including 14 PayPal users who had previous or active domestic violence orders against them.
Another purchaser was listed on the Child Sex Offender Register.
In a world first, the AFP uncovered not only the software’s users, but also identified the spyware victims, of which there were 44 in Australia.
Cybercrime operations commander Chris Goldsmid said a key element of the software was its covered nature.
“Cybercrime isn’t just a crime against computers or computer networks … these crimes have real-world impacts, including facilitating stalking and domestic violence offending.”
Thirteen people were arrested globally and more than 430 devices were seized.
On July 6, the alleged creator was served with a summons to face six charges for his alleged role in creating, selling, and administering the software between 2013 and 2019.
Police will allege the man made up to $400,000 from selling the malware, and most of it was spent on consumable and disposable items like food delivery services.
A 42-year-old woman at the Frankston home was also charged with dealing with the proceeds of crime.
Police launched Operation Cepheus in 2017 when the FBI and a cybersecurity firm alerted Australian Federal Police to a suspicious Remote Access Trojan.
The resulting global investigation included more than a dozen law enforcement agencies in Europe.
“This operation is a testament to the importance of working together with the private sector and our law enforcement partners both internationally and domestically to tackle cybercrime in an increasingly digital world,” Goldsmid said.
The Australian Federal Police shut down the software in 2019 and stopped it operating on all devices across the globe.
Police investigations into the matter continue.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.In an emergency, call 000.Advice and counseling for men concerned about their use of family violence: Men’s Referral Service1300 766 491.