A programmer who wrote and sold software that backdoored PCs so they could be remotely controlled has been jailed for 30 months – and forced to give up his stash of 114 Bitcoins.
Colton Grubbs, 21, of Stanford, Kentucky, was sentenced this week after admitting to creating LuminosityLink, a software package he claimed was a tool for systems administrators to remotely control PCs. He sold the code for $39.95 a time, although he admitted that he knew his customers were criminals who would use it for nefarious purposes.
Typically, the program would be installed on victims' Windows machines – physically by bad friends and spouses, or remotely via booby-trapped downloads and attachments, for example – and used to spy on their activities. The software nasty could snoop on computers' cameras and microphones, view and download files, steal usernames and passwords, mine cryptocurrency, launch attacks against other networks, and prevent antivirus packages from detecting and removing it. More than 6,000 people bought the spyware, according to prosecutors.
Grubbs was eventually tracked down and snared by the FBI. He initially denied any wrongdoing, then changed his plea to guilty.
“Our modern society is dependent on computers, mobile devices, and the use of the internet,” said Robert Duncan, Jr, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
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“People simply have to have confidence in their ability to use these modern instruments to transact their business, privately communicate, and securely maintain their information. It is essential that we vigorously prosecute those who erode that confidence and illicitly gain access to computer systems and the electronic information of others. Everyone benefits when this deceitful conduct is discovered, investigated, and prosecuted.”
While LuminosityLink had some legitimate uses as a remote administration tool, Grubbs promoted it on websites like HackForums.net and, when investigators came calling, he tried to hide his computers and accounts from view.
As part of his plea, he will hand over to Uncle Sam his Bitcoin stash – the proceeds from his spyware peddling – which is currently valued at $725,000. He must also "serve 85 percent of his prison sentence; and upon his release, he will be under the supervision of the United States Probation Office for a term of three years," according to prosecutors. ®