Imagine this scenario. You're using a personal home computer, then without your knowledge, a cyberspy starts compromising your machine. The attacker infects the entire computer—including your webcam—and starts spying on you remotely.
It sounds creepy and straight out of science fiction. But prosecutors and digital security experts say it's a real, present threat.
Earlier this week, federal prosecutors announced charges against creators and users of a disturbing software program called Blackshades. Its key feature is a kind of malware known as a remote access tool—or RAT, for short. Using Blackshades, cybercriminals take over victims' computers for spying and money-making purposes, experts say. Criminals also listen to victims through infected computer microphones, monitor users' keystrokes and virtually rifle through personal documents and pictures.
"For just $40, the Blackshades RAT enabled anyone, anywhere in the world to instantly become a dangerous cybercriminal, able to steal your property and invade your privacy," said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He made the comments at a press conference Monday.
Despite the recent crackdown on Blackshades, cyber experts say RAT isn't disappearing overnight. Consumers need to protect themselves against more effective, cheaper malware—which makes them alluring for cyberthieves with few tech skills and little money.