Feds Free Thousands of Computers From Hackers

Officials say they have disabled two of the world’s worst computer viruses.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
June 2, 2014, 9:32 a.m.

The United States and oth­er gov­ern­ments have cracked down on the group be­hind two of the world’s worst com­puter vir­uses, of­fi­cials an­nounced Monday.

Both schemes — the “Gameover Zeus Bot­net” and the “Crypto­lock­er” vir­us — in­fec­ted hun­dreds of thou­sands of com­puters and stole mil­lions of dol­lars from vic­tims around the world, the of­fi­cials said.

U.S. and for­eign law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials said they seized serv­ers and dis­abled both vir­uses, and the Justice De­part­ment filed charges against Ev­gen­iy Mikhail­ovich Bogachev, a Rus­si­an na­tion­al whom the U.S. al­leges is the lead­er of a group be­hind both schemes.

“Ev­gen­iy Bogachev and the mem­bers of his crim­in­al net­work de­vised and im­ple­men­ted the kind of cy­ber­crimes that you might not be­lieve if you saw them in a sci­ence-fic­tion movie,” Leslie Cald­well, the head of the Justice De­part­ment’s Crim­in­al Di­vi­sion, said.

Gameover Zeus si­lently spied on and even con­trolled in­fec­ted com­puters, the of­fi­cials said. The vir­us in­ter­cep­ted bank ac­count num­bers and pass­words, al­low­ing the hack­ers to empty their vic­tims’ bank ac­counts, ac­cord­ing to the charges.

Gameover Zeus con­trolled a net­work of between 500,000 and 1 mil­lion com­puters around the world, se­cur­ity re­search­ers es­tim­ate.

The Justice De­part­ment ob­tained court or­ders to block the vic­tims’ com­puters from com­mu­nic­at­ing with the hack­ers’ serv­ers, and set up sub­sti­tute serv­ers in­stead. More than 300,000 vic­tim com­puters have been freed from the hack­ers, and that num­ber is ex­pec­ted to in­crease in the com­ing days, the Justice De­part­ment said.

While Gameover Zeus worked quietly to steal fin­an­cial in­form­a­tion, the Crypto­lock­er wasn’t so subtle. The Justice De­part­ment says that the hack­ers seized con­trol of com­puters and de­man­ded that the vic­tims pay hun­dreds of dol­lars to un­lock their files.

“The crim­in­als ef­fect­ively held for ransom every private email, busi­ness plan, child’s sci­ence pro­ject, or fam­ily pho­to­graph — every single im­port­ant and per­son­al file stored on the vic­tim’s com­puter,” Cald­well said. “In or­der to get their data back, com­puter own­ers had to hand over their cash. As with Gameover Zeus, once you learned you were in­fec­ted with the Crypto­lock­er mal­ware, it was too late.”

U.S. of­fi­cials said they seized com­puter serv­ers cent­ral to the Crypto­lock­er scheme. The vir­us in­fec­ted more than 234,000 com­puters, half of them in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to se­cur­ity re­search­ers.

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