Accused BlackShades hacker seeks to back out of plea deal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Swedish man who had been set to plead guilty on Monday to resolve U.S. charges stemming from his alleged creation of malicious software used to hack a half-million computers worldwide has apparently backed out of the deal, according to court records.

Alex Yucel, 24, was scheduled to appear at a plea hearing on Monday afternoon in federal court in New York, after prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan told a judge last week that the government and Yucel had reached a deal in principle.

But Yucel’s lawyer, Bradley Henry, filed a letter in court on Friday asking the judge for a new trial date in May or June and made no mention of a plea agreement. The hearing on Monday was also canceled, according to U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel’s office.

It was not immediately known why Yucel decided not to plead guilty on Monday. Henry did not respond to a request for comment. Prosecutors declined to comment.

Prosecutors have said Yucel was the owner of an organization called BlackShades, which allegedly sold software to thousands of users in more than 100 countries starting in 2010.

The software, called a “Remote Access Tool” (RAT), gave hackers remote control of computers, allowing them to steal passwords and gain access to personal files.

Some hackers used BlackShades, an inexpensive software that prosecutors said cost as little as $40, to spy on victims by using a computer’s camera, while other hackers locked files and held them as ransom, according to authorities.

Yucel ran BlackShades under the alias “marjinz,” employing customer service representatives and even a marketing director to increase business, according to prosecutors. BlackShades generated more than $350,000 in sales between September 2010 and April 2014, authorities said.

Yucel was arrested in November 2013 in Moldova, in Eastern Europe, as part of a global crackdown on BlackShades. He faces computer hacking, identify theft, conspiracy and other charges and has been in custody since his extradition to the United States last year.

In May 2014, U.S. and European authorities announced the arrests of about 100 people across more than a dozen countries.

Editing by David Ingram and Jeffrey Benkoe