In July 2016, KrebsOnSecurity published a story identifying a Toronto man as the author of the Orcus RAT, a software product that’s been marketed on underground forums and used in countless malware attacks since its creation in 2015. This week, Canadian authorities criminally charged him with orchestrating an international malware scheme.
A 21-year-old Kentucky man has pleaded guilty to authoring and distributing a popular hacking tool called “LuminosityLink,” a malware strain that security experts say was used by thousands of customers to gain unauthorized access to tens of thousands of computers across 78 countries worldwide.
It’s been a busy few weeks in cybercrime news, justifying updates to a couple of cases we’ve been following closely at KrebsOnSecurity. In Ukraine, the alleged ringleader of the Avalanche malware spam botnet was arrested after eluding authorities in the wake of a global cybercrime crackdown there in 2016. Separately, a case that was hailed as a test of whether programmers can be held accountable for how customers use their product turned out poorly for 27-year-old programmer Taylor Huddleston, who was sentenced to almost three years in prison for making and marketing a complex spyware program.
“He built a piece of software. That tool was pirated and abused by hackers. Now the feds want him to pay for the computer crooks’ crimes.”
The above snippet is the subhead of a story published last month by the Daily Beast titled “FBI Arrests Hacker Who Hacked No One.” The subject of that piece — a 26-year-old American named Taylor Huddleston — faces felony hacking charges connected to two computer programs he authored and sold: An anti-piracy product called Net Seal, and a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) called NanoCore that he says was a benign program designed to help users remotely administer their computers.
The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddelston’s case “raises a novel question: When is a programmer criminally responsible for the actions of his users? Some experts say [the case] could have far reaching implications for developers, particularly those working on new technologies that criminals might adopt in unforeseeable ways.”
But a closer look at the government’s side of the story — as well as public postings left behind by the accused and his alleged accomplices — paints a more complex and nuanced picture that suggests this may not be the case to raise that legal question in a meaningful way.