Blackshades: Why We Should Care About Old Malware


“Blackshades is so 2012” is the near response I received when I mentioned to a friend the recent FBI takedown of almost 100 Blackshades RAT dealers. This nonchalant, almost apathetic attitude towards older malware struck a nerve with me, since I’ve known network defenders and incident responders with the same sentiment. If the malware isn’t fresh, or if it’s perceived as old, they don’t want any part of it. While that attitude isn’t necessarily the norm, it does serve as a reminder that malware never truly dies–it just keeps on compromising. In fact, more than a half million computers in over 100 countries were reportedly recently infected by the Blackshades malware.

The FBI arrests are indicative of the omnipresence of malware even after it has been identified. In addition to the arrests, the FBI seized more than 1,900 domains used by Blackshades users to control their victims’ computers. Despite these seizures, countless systems from around the globe continue to attempt connections with their respective Blackshades Command and Control (CnC) domains. And there’s really no telling how many people have a copy of the RAT. Blackshades has been around for a while, and with a sales price of $40, it’s also quite affordable–not to mention the fact that the source code was leaked in 2010. It seems likely that there are a number of Blackshades RAT controllers still at large.

What does Blackshades actually do? Just about anything the controller wants. Lately, the news around Blackshades has focused on its use as “Creepware,” in which a victim’s webcam is turned on remotely. But the RAT can do much more than that. For example, a couple of years ago the Blackshades Stealth version advertised the following capabilities:

  • General Computer Information (local IP, username, operating system (OS), uptime, webcam, etc.)
  • Screen, Webcam, and Voice Capture
  • Keylogger, File Manager, Processes, Password Recovery, Ping
  • Download and Execute, Shell, Maintenance (reconnect, close, restart, uninstall)
  • Open Windows (shows what applications are open)
  • Mac Compatible Client

There were other versions, too. The Blackshades Radar, for example, advertised the ability to set keywords to listen for in either the window title or written text. This would then trigger a key-logger to start logging keystrokes for a controller-specified amount of time, and the data collected would be sent back to the controller via email. This capability helped attackers pinpoint and exfiltrate a desired set of data, without a lot of excess key-logged chaff. Blackshades Recover advertised the ability to collect passwords, CD keys, and product keys for hundreds of popular software applications. And Blackshades Fusion advertised its ability to incorporate many of the previously described functions.

With such an impressive resume of capabilities, it’s no wonder the Syrian government used Blackshades, along with RAT-siblings Dark Comet and Gh0stRAT, against Syrian activists in early 2012. And even though that campaign may also be “so 2012” to some, the well-reported CnC domain used (alosh66(dot)servecounterstrike(dot)com) is still very much alive and kicking. In fact, according to various sources, there have been over 21,000 connection attempts for the domain this year from several countries around the globe, including from the U.S., with the majority coming from a Syrian Internet Service Provider. If this number for alosh66(dot)servecounterstrike(dot)com is accurate, and if that number holds true for the 1,900 domains ceased by the FBI, that would equate to potentially 39,879,000 connection attempts to Blackshades CnC domains since January 1, 2014. Fortunately, the domain has essentially been terminated, as it has been resolving to since 2012, but it’s possible that the controller could have reconfigured those systems to communicate via a different CnC domain, meaning all of the aforementioned systems could be actively infected.

While the exact number of infected systems cannot be determined, the recent arrests illustrate the longevity of malware. The cybercrime landscape not only includes new and emerging threats, but also requires constant assessment of older malware. Regardless of how many systems are infected by the Blackshades RAT, the FBI arrests truly highlight the fact that the war on cybercrime is in full swing.