US disrupts major hacking, extortion ring; Russian charged

(Reuters) – A US-led international operation disrupted a crime ring that infected hundreds of thousands of PCs around the globe with malicious software used for stealing banking credentials and extorting computer owners, the Justice Department said yesterday.

Authorities in nearly a dozen countries worked with private security companies to wrest control of the network of infected machines, known by the name of its master software, Gameover Zeus.

Court documents released yesterday said that between 500,000 and 1 million machines worldwide were infected with the malicious software, which was derived from the original “Zeus” trojan for stealing financial passwords that emerged in 2006. Officials charged a Russian man with hacking, fraud and money-laundering, and court documents suggested they suspect he wrote Zeus, one of the most effective pieces of theft software ever found.

In addition to stealing from the online accounts of businesses and consumers, the Gameover Zeus crew installed other malicious programs, including one called Cryptolocker that encrypted files and demanded payments for their release.

Cryptolocker alone infected more than 234,000 machines and won $27 million in ransom payments in just its first two months, the Justice Department said.

The two programmes together brought the gang more than $100 million, prosecutors said in court documents, including $198,000 in an unauthorized wire transfer from an unnamed Pennsylvania materials company and $750 in ransom from a police department in Massachusetts that had its investigative files encrypted. Other victims included PNC Bank and Capital One Bank , according to court documents.

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