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Canada joins global crackdown on malware as arrests made worldwide

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MONTREAL - Authorities in 16 countries, including Canada, took part in a global crackdown on a sophisticated malware that lets cybercriminals take over a computer and hijack its webcam.

Charges were announced Monday against at least 97 people worldwide.

More than 350 properties were raided last week as part of the operation, including 15 in Quebec.

Police said they had arrested people suspected of using or distributing the malicious software called BlackShades.

Const. Philippe Gravel, an investigator with the RCMP's Integrated Technological Crime Unit in Quebec, said he expected charges will be laid in Canada as well.

Gravel says police raided homes on May 13 and 14 in Montreal, Quebec City and elsewhere in the province after obtaining search warrants.

"We've searched the houses, we've seized computers and we're still analyzing the data," Gravel said. Gravel said he couldn't comment on whether there would be further raids in Canada.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney issued a statement praising the operation "for preventing further harm from the proliferation of such cybercrime networks."

The FBI said the BlackShades Remote Access Tool has been sold since at least 2010 to several thousand users. The agency said one of the program's co-creators is now co-operating with the government and had provided extensive information.

The malware lets hackers steal personal information, intercept keystrokes and hijack webcams to make secret recordings of users. BlackShades also can be used to encrypt and lock a computer's data files, blocking the rightful owners from regaining access unless they pay a ransom.

Security experts have linked the program to attacks on Syrian dissidents in 2012 and attempts to steal data from more than a dozen French organizations last year. The low cost of the hacking tool has made it increasingly popular across the hacker underground, where variants have been circulating online for years.

Last year, security firm Symantec said that use of BlackShades was going up, with licenses for the program going for $40 to $100.

French officials said raids occurred last week after the FBI arrested two BlackShades developers and distributed a list of customers who had purchased the malware.

Law enforcement co-ordination agencies Europol and Eurojust, based in The Hague, Netherlands, said Monday that police in 13 European countries — Austria, Belgium, Britain, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Moldova, the Netherlands and Switzerland — as well as in Canada, the United States, and Chile raided 359 properties and seized cash, firearms, drugs and more than 1,000 data storage devices.

The two European agencies declined to provide country-by-country breakdowns of arrests, details of items seized or the specific days when last week's raids occurred.

In a statement, the RCMP advised Canadians to make sure an anti-virus software is in place and not to open email from an unknown source.

- With files from The Associated Press

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