The Australian Federal Police announced over the weekend that a 24-year-old man has been charged for allegedly creating and selling a piece of spyware named Imminent Monitor (IM).
The suspect, who has not been named, is said to have created the remote access trojan (RAT) when he was 15 years old. He has been charged on six counts related to his alleged role in creating, selling and managing the malware between 2013 and 2019, when the IM RAT infrastructure was taken down as part of an international law enforcement operation.
The man, whose court hearing is scheduled for later this month, faces up to 20 years in prison. He was charged alongside a 42-year-old woman who lives at the same address as him — she faces one count of dealing with the proceeds of a crime.
Authorities identified the IM RAT developer, known online as “Shockwave”, in 2019, with the aid of cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks. The firm’s researchers did not have much trouble uncovering the real identity and location of the IM RAT developer, who was linked to a company where his mother was listed as the registered agent.
IM RAT, offered for between $25 and $100 for a lifetime license, had been advertised as a legitimate tool designed for remote administration. Its advertised capabilities included remotely managing Windows servers, providing remote support, monitoring employees, and remote connections to home or office computers.
However, its functionality clearly showed that it was actually a piece of spyware. IM RAT could be used to remotely access a device’s webcam and microphone, log keystrokes, obtain passwords, disable security software, and copy files from the compromised system. The trojan also had the ability to hide its presence and some versions were even designed to run cryptocurrency miners on victims’ machines.
According to Australian police, the spyware was sold to more than 14,500 people across 128 countries, including individuals registered as sex offenders and ones involved in domestic violence cases. Authorities estimate there were tens of thousands of IM RAT victims around the world.
Palo Alto Networks reported in 2019 that it had observed more than 115,000 IM RAT attacks against its customers alone. The cybersecurity firm had collected more than 65,000 samples of the malware.
When IM RAT infrastructure was shut down in 2019, police also arrested a dozen users of the malware. Its alleged developer was arrested the same year, but it appears charges were only brought against him now. The investigation conducted by Australian law enforcement is ongoing.
Australian police believe the 24-year-old made between $300,000 and $400,000 from selling the malware.