After twenty-four hours of speculation, as well as a wall of silence from officials connected to the case, Europol's Troels Oerting, who is head of the European Cybercrime Center, has confirmed that 'Paunch' — one of the people behind the creation and maintenance of the Blackhole Exploit Kit — has been arrested in Russia.
"I know it is true, we got some information, but I cannot say anymore," Oerting told TechWeekEurope in a brief statement.
According to data from security firms such as Symantec, F-Secure, ESET, Kaspersky, Bit Defender, McAfee, and others, the Blackhole Exploit Kit is the most popular crime kit on the Web, and is used daily to tens of thousands of people online. Blackhole is rented by criminals and those responsible for its maintenance offer updates and features on a regular basis. The kit itself can be used for a number of attacks, as it supports exploits for Windows, Adobe, and Java, as well as custom scripts and attacks.
With this arrest, the lack of updates will see existing exploits go stale, leading to a mass migration to other crime kit platforms. This is already happening in some instances, as one researcher spotted IFRAME injection points shift from Cool Exploit Kit (maintained by 'Paunch') to the Whitehole Exploit Kit.
Word of the arrest was first reported by Maarten Boone, a security researcher at Dutch security firm Fox-IT. Since Friday, updates to one of Blackhole's Java applet that 'Paunch' maintained has been idle, and the service used to encrypt exploits (crypt.am) has been offline.
However, those examples aside, there was no official confirmation that the rumors of an arrest were true until Europol's comments early Tuesday morning. Authorities in Russia would not comment on the news, nor would they confirm or deny the arrest.
When asked for an opinion, a spokesperson for Symantec's Security Response told CSO that the arrest itself is significant, as Blackhole is one of the most dominant exploit kits in recent times.
"Due to the fact its update services and infrastructure are down, we can surmise it will have a significant impact to their operations. The reported arrest could result in all current Blackhole infection vectors going down and the trend should continue based on these assumptions... The threat landscape will not change, and those who are affected by this, will merely move onto another exploit kit."
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