The reported arrests of the creator of the Blackhole exploit kit, only referred to as "Paunch," and his partner in Russia will send a message to other cyber-criminals that they are not beyond the reach of law enforcement, but otherwise will have little real impact on the criminal underground, experts said this week.
On Oct. 4, the service for updating the Blackhole exploit kit shut down and a second service, for encrypting malware to make it more difficult to detect, became inaccessible, Jeff Williams, director of security strategy for managed-security firm Dell Secureworks, told eWEEK. Without those services, Blackhole installations will eventually fail or become irrelevant.
The reported arrest highlights the improved teamwork among the law enforcement agencies of the United States and other countries, Williams said.
"I think it is a powerful move by law enforcement, and I'm glad to see it happen," he said. "Not only does it take some of the players involved in the Blackhole exploit kit out of the picture for the time being, but also it acts as a chilling effect for some criminals who may no longer believe that they are above the law."
The arrest, which took place last week, has been confirmed by Russian authorities and Europol, the European Union's law enforcement and criminal intelligence agency, according to media reports.
Exploit kits are software platforms, and increasingly services, for cyber-crime that allow criminals to infect victims' systems, steal information and install other malware on the machines. Once the most popular exploit kit, Blackhole has mainly been supplanted by other software services and platforms. Depending on the week, kits named Neutrino, Glazunov, Sibhost, Styx or SweetOrange have topped the charts, according to security firm Sophos.
In August, Blackhole only accounted for 4 percent of infections seen by Sophos, a proportion that dropped to 2 percent last week.
"With other exploit kits already dominant in the market, a decline in Blackhole activity [does] not necessarily mean a change in the overall threat landscape, [because] criminals who used to use Blackhole services could simply migrate to other exploit kits," Fraser Howard, principal virus researcher at Sophos, wrote in a blog post.
Cooperation among national law enforcement agencies has improved over the years, and while the crackdown on Blackhole may not cause much pain for cyber-criminals, it does show that cooperation can lead to effective action, said Secureworks' Williams. Focusing on the exploit kits, which allow non-technical criminals to conduct cyber-criminal operations, will be most effective, he said.
"It's one thing to take down a botnet, because there are plenty of botnets out there," he said. "There are fewer kits, and so if the focus is on kits, it might have a broader ecosystem impact, particularly if there is actor attribution that leads to more arrests."