MEN from Greater Manchester have been arrested as part of an international investigation into cyber crime.

A 24-year-old man from Leigh, along with a 36-year-old man from Farnworth, in Bolton, were arrested for offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 in regards to an investigation involving a hacking tool purchased by cyber criminals in 124 countries.

The hacking tool, known as Imminent Monitor Remove Access Trojan (IM RAT) gives those who install it onto victim's computers full access to the device, enabling them to disable anti-virus software, steal data or passwords, record key strokes and watch victims through their webcams.

The device was bought by 14,500 people from across the world for as little as £19 from the website, which has now been taken down.

The international operation was led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) leading the UK investigation with UK activity coordinated and supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

On Monday (November 25) an international week of action commenced with enforcement activity taking place across nine countries targeting sellers and users of the tool.

21 search warrants were executed across the UK, in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Milton Keynes, Hull, London, Leeds, Walsall, Lancashire, Nottingham, Surrey, Essex and Somerset, all targeting suspected users of the IM RAT.

Those warrants lead to the recovery of more than 100 exhibits and 14 people arrested or interviewed on suspicion of offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act.

Europe-wide there were 85 warrants executed, with more than 400 items seized.

As well as the men from Leigh and Farnworth, a 23-year-old man from Denton was also arrested for offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act.

Detective Inspector Andy Milligan from the NWROCU said: "This has been a complex, challenging cyber investigation with international scope. "We have been supported throughout by the AFP, the NCA and our partners in Europol and Eurojust.

"The UK's Regional Organised Crime Unit network and Force Specialist Cyber Crime Units were pivotal during this phase of enforcement activity.

"The illicit use of IM RAT is akin to a cyber burglary, with criminals stealing data, including images and movies, secretly turning on web cams, monitoring key strokes and listening in to people's conversations via computer microphones.

"Cyber Crime is not an anonymous victimless crime as some believe.

"There are real world consequences to people's actions in cyber space and the international activity this week has shown how serious the UK treats this sort of criminality.

"People should protect themselves by following National Cyber Security Centre advice, ensuring operating systems are always up to date, that they use anti-virus and they don't click on links or attachments in suspicious emails."

A 27 year old man, from Parr, St Helens, who can't be named for legal reasons, was charged and later convicted of 3 offences contrary to the Computer Misuse Act and 3 offences contrary to the Sexual Offences Act.

He will appear at Liverpool Crown Court on December 23rd for sentencing.

Australian police took the website down on Friday (November 29).

Subsequently, the IM RAT tool can no longer be used by those that bought it.

Phil Larratt from the NCA said: "Working with the NWROCU, AFP and a range of international and European partners we were able to support the takedown of a website that was distributing malware and facilitating hacking offences.

"The IM RAT was used by individuals and organised crime groups in the UK to commit a range of offences beyond just the Computer Misuse Act, including fraud, theft and money laundering.

"Cyber criminals who bought this tool for as little as $25 were able to commit serious criminality, remotely invading the privacy of unsuspecting victims and stealing sensitive data.

"As part of Team Cyber UK, the NCA works with a wide range of law enforcement, government and private sector partners to affectively disrupt and deter this type of criminal activity."

Full list of countries involved

1. United Kingdom

2. Australia

3. Belgium

4. Sweden

5. Czech Republic

6. Poland

7. Netherlands

8. Spain

9. Columbia