Feds Free Thousands of Computers From Hackers

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

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
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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